SANDAG’s 2050 Transportation Plan Drawing More and More Heat

More please? A shot of one of San Diego's freeways. Image: ## Diego Personal Injury Lawyers##

When the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) passed its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, it declared a major victory over Greenhouse Gas emissions.  The plan was the first plan written to adhere to a 2008 law mandating that long-term transportation plans show a commitment to reducing air pollutants linked to global warming and a slew of public health problems.

However, it didn’t take long for the plan to be challenged in court be environmental groups for not going far enough, a legal battle that could have implications throughout the state.  A local environmental group known as the Cleveland National Forest Foundation launched a lawsuit against the plan that most observers dismissed as having little chance of winning.  Then, the CNFF was joined by other environmental groups, even the California Sierra Club.  Then, the Attorney General, Kamala Harris, weighed in.  Now, the SANDAG plan, once considered an important test of environmental planning, is also opposed by the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party.  The Caucus passed a resolution condemning the SANDAG plan at their February meeting.

“As the first regional government in California to develop a land use plan under the State’s strict new climate change laws, SANDAG has a responsibility to set a path toward a sustainable future,” said Tony L. Hale, Chair of the Environmental Caucus of the California Democratic Party. “Instead, SANDAG’s plan calls for more of the same: sprawl, air pollution, and an increase in dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.”

A full copy of the Caucus’ resolution can be found at the end of this article.

The major issue in the lawsuit is is that while the SANDAG plan does outline a major growth in the region’s transit network, most of the transit planning is in the last years of the project.  The early years call for a rapid increase in the area’s highway network through a new high occupancy/toll lane system (HOT Lanes).  SANDAG spokespeople claim that because the lanes can be used free by transit, they should be considered transit projects.   Not everyone agrees.

Meanwhile, public comment on the plan for the six-county Southern California Association of Government’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, ended last week.  Critics of the draft plan note that it has some of the same issues as the SANDAG plan, notably that funding for active transportation projects are funded towards the end of the plan, not the beginning.  A vote on a final plan is expected in March.

Text of Resolution Passed by the California Democratic Environmental Caucus: Plans Should Help Achieve Climate Stabilization

WHEREAS, on October 28 , 2011, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Board of Directors voted, over the objection of Congressman Bob Filner, to approve a $214 billion Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) that (1) failed to meet California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals and (2) encourages driving and discourages public transit, by including, for example, a 27-mile-long widening of I-5, from 8 to 12 lanes, a project that is opposed by a long list of organizations, including the Democratic Club of Carlsbad and Oceanside; and

WHEREAS, (1) reducing greenhouse gases and stabilizing our climate is critical to our future well being; (2) cars and light-duty trucks cause 41% of San Diego County’s greenhouse gas emissions, and San Diego has a very high cancer risk from diesel pollution; (3) under California environmental law, SANDAG’s Final Environmental Impact Report must consider the environmental consequences of failing to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals; and (4) SANDAG contends that it is exempt from California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals;

WHEREAS, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the RTP’s FEIR and both Sierra Club California (SCC) and Attorney General Kamala Harris have joined this lawsuit;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus (1) opposes any Regional Transportation Plan that does not meet California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals; (2) commends Attorney General Kamala Harris; (3) commends Congressman Bob Filner for his courageous speech to SANDAG on October 28 , 2011, and (4) commends CNFF, CBD, and SCC for their courageous fight to improve our region’s transportation and land-use planning.

  • True Freedom

    One of the problems with San Diego is that they build high density housing BEFORE having the transportation infrastructure to support it.  This ill-fated pattern is seen over and over again here in LA, and the result is the same:  increased traffic, increased pollution, decreased quality of life. 
    The simple fact is that the vast majority of new residents occupying new high density dwellings will still own and use cars.  Without a sufficient public transit infrastructure in place FIRST.. those new residents will further clog our roadways.

  • Anonymous

    Roadways only get clogged when access to them is priced below the market. If you’ll remember from Econ 101, a “demand curve” shows how shortages can be eliminated, even without adding supply:

  • True Freedom

    @traal:disqus:  classic example where theory and reality collide in an unpleasant way.  The problem here is that transit infrastructure is insufficient and in many cases inefficient to the point that driving a car is the best option.  Sure, you can price people out of their cars, but here you’ll favor the wealthy and relegate the poor to inefficient lifestyles.

  • I submitted a comment during the public review period of the plan adoption, which is included in the final report available at In response to traal’s point, it’s true that the use of highways is underpriced, creating congestion. But the policy prescription you offer, simply charging market-clearing rates, has implications that must be thought through.Having spent the last summer researching congestion pricing at the Urban Redevelopment Authority in Singapore, I’ve come to the conclusion that congestion pricing creates a social bifurcation, between those that can afford to drive, and those who cannot. In our country, without mass transit to speak of, what would become of those who were priced out of the market, stranded in exurbia?Urban policy carries with it the legacy of creating most American spaces as car-dependent expanses of subdivisions and shopping malls and allowing working class cities to crumble with abandoned struggling populations. For the wealthy to simply reclaim and gentrify those areas, with vastly incomparable levels of wealth, and additionally, as you suggest, begin charging for the use of the roads that support the places where the poor increasingly find themselves is a bit too much. 

    Until alternatives exist for ordinary Americans, simply pricing people off roads is not an option.

  • sandeeze1

    Misguided environmentalism.

  • sandeeze1

    It is really sad to see an innovative transportation plan being attacked by narrow-minded groups who fail to make important distinctions beyond simply highways vs. transit. It is widely accepted by transportation planning experts that HOT lanes, which constitute the bulk of the improvements covered in this plan, are by far the most practical, cost effective, and sustainable way to address transportation deficiencies in spread-out metro regions like San Diego. Furthermore, HOT lanes provide the best opportunity for transit improvements because they address one of the biggest challenges associated with transit: access to reliable, high-speed right-of-way. Furthermore, HOT lanes encourage carpooling by guaranteeing a free and fast ride and again, these groups fail to realize that a carpool is equally if not more environmentally friendly than many transit alternatives which, lets not forget, also require energy (ultimately fossil fuel based) to operate.

    So what’s the brilliant alternative proposed by these zealous groups? Switch out the HOT lanes errrrr “evil highway projects” and add a couple of billion-dollar rail projects that will be useful for far less people, have no future adaptability, and will require significant operating subsidies from taxpayers? Probably, but at least rail magically doesn’t pollute in any way and will therefore save us from climate change.

    How sadly ironic, that AB32/SB375, which all along was nothing but a toothless bit of legislation that will do nothing to stop climate change but will all help us sleep better at night without having to make any actual sacrifices, IS having an impact: it is causing some of us to want to punch ourselves in the face for literally no actual environmental benefit.

  • sandeeze1

    The problem here, however, is the mindset of dangerously powerful, narrow-minded groups who are suing SANDAG because they think that a handful of billion-dollar rail projects in a 300+ square-mile region is going to magically solve our transportation deficiencies and prevent climate change. If they did not have a warped view of reality, they would realize that high-occupancy toll lanes solve the very problems they are trying to solve. They create cost-effective and high-performing commuter bus corridors that can be sustained with toll revenue from drivers who will actually be charged based on demand, like every other commodity in capitalist society. Carpoolers, who will have a strong incentive to use the lanes for free, will be a major part of the solution both from a transportation standpoint and environmental.

    Unfortunately, these groups only think in the following terms:

    highway expansion (regardless of type) = bad
    cars (regardless of passenger occupancy) = bad
    rail (regardless of cost, accessibility, occupancy) = good

  • @ddd1f71fa082f5f9762b6a3fac5ea17d:disqus To use your words: If you think that carpooling can magically solve transportation deficiencies, I think you may have a warped view of reality. You’ve summed up the way many Streetsblog readers see things:

    highway expansion (regardless of type) = bad
    cars (regardless of passenger occupancy) = bad
    rail (regardless of cost, accessibility, occupancy) = good

    Get out of your car and go for a walk or bike ride and perhaps you’ll see things the way we do.

  • calwatch

    The problem is San Diego’s HOT lane implementation is ham-handed. For example, the I-15 Express Lanes have already opened, but the BRT that is supposed to be there will not operate for three more years! Transit riders get zero benefit until they operate. At least the Metro Silver “Line”, as badly implemented as it is with its confusing fare, lack of ticket vending machines, and atrocious weekend and evening service, operate today, several years before tolls are charged. I agree with True Freedom that you need better infrastructure before you start plopping high density developments in outer areas. 

    On diesel pollution, the best solution there is not more lanes, but more efficient rail and goods movement – including double tracking the entire San Diego-Oceanside line so freight and passenger rail can coexist. 

  • Anonymous

    See below.

  • HOT lanes are the most practical, cost effective, and sustainable way to address transportation deficiencies if they fully committed to.  One BRT on the 15 and one in the South Bay is not commitment.  The entire city needs a BRT transportation network otherwise the effectiveness decreases exponentially.  The 2050RTP does not commit itself fully to ANY transportation plan.  It doesn’t commit itself to rail.  It doesn’t commit itself to BRT, it doesn’t commit itself to anything because of the fear of cars.  

    It continues to try to support car infrastructure while throwing BRT a bone here or there through HOT, but the HOT lanes are really SANDAG’s way of supporting car infrastructure which is really the only infrastructure that is NOT sustainable.  Either rail or BRT would be sustainable in the future IF fully committed to.  

    The fact is, transit (rail or BRT) cannot coexist with cars.  

    Nowhere in the world does a viable transit system that coexists with cars.  

    Cars have been shown to be unsustainable.  We need to pull all infrastructure resources and fully invest and FOCUS on one transportation model.  That’s the problem with SANDAG’s plan.  It’s not really trying to move San Diego into the transit future.  It has one foot stuck in the past.


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