Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

SANDAG’s Five Big Moves: Trains v. Technology

Author: Hoa Quach
Created: 11 September, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
7 min read

SANDAG, the region's planning board, proposed its 2021 Regional Plan, titled the "5 Big Moves." The agency, which estimates the plan will cost roughly $177 billion over 30 years, are calling the five moves: Complete Corridors, Transit Leaps, Mobility Hubs, Flexible Fleets and the Next OS. 

Among the suggestions in the regional plan include a “Grand Central Station” near the airport, a high-speed rail from Otay Mesa to Kearny Mesa, priority interstate lanes for carpooling and vanpooling, separate lanes for people who walk or bike and high-speed communication for data-sharing.

SANDAG’s more detailed description of each “move” is broken down below. But, the real controversies are somewhat buried in the bureaucratic techno-speak.

The most transparent description came courtesy of Voice of San Diego, where the reporter interviewed executive director Hasan Ikharta about the $177 billion plan.

Transit lines will be one of four tiers, including the existing light rail and rapid bus systems and a new fast commuter rail concept. The plan will specify how SANDAG will manage traffic by charging drivers to use highways and where it can add new lanes from existing shoulders. But, the plan will not include any general highway-widening projects.

Two very large project proposals dominate the plan.

The first is the possible construction of a multimodal transportation hub or “Grand Central Station” near the airport just off of Highway 5. This is not a new idea, but the $5 billion price tag is.

In fact, Carl Nettlton won a San Diego Press Club Award for his October 2019 IVN.us article where he detailed the history of efforts to build an airport anchored by an intermodal station. 

The article, “SANDAG Goes Back To The Future: The 2007 Vision For A “Grand Central Station” takes readers deep into the history of the Lindbergh Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) and its parallels to a new plan to link San Diego International Airport with the city's other public transportation systems. Nettleton managed a team of professionals on behalf of the Independent Voter Project in 2007 and 2008 to analyze the possibility of moving Lindbergh Field’s terminals and building a Grand Central Station.

The Independent Voter Project (co-publisher of IVN.us) paid for a $350,000 feasibility study, which concluded the airport could operate at higher volumes and with greater efficiency by moving the terminals to the freeway side of the airport. At the request of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders, the Airport Authority initiated its own study.

The Airport Authority ultimately rejected the opportunity to consolidate the airport terminals with a multimodal transit center and instead built new rental car facilities on the north side of the airport. The current $5 billion Grand Central station plan, unlike the IVP plan, will have limited access to airport-related revenues and funding. However, the new plan benefits from the availability of the Spawar property for redevelopment. While this location is not ideal, it sits less than two miles north of the airport.

Gaining virtually no attention, before or after the announcement, is SANDAG’s proposal to build an underground “heavy rail” line from Otay Mesa to Kearny Mesa or perhaps further. It was this piece that sparked the most criticism. 

Where the Candidates Stand

Mayoral candidate Barbara Bry immediately branded the "5 Big Moves" as outdated. She said it would be too expensive in both environmental and monetary terms. But, Bry’s opponent, Assemblymember Todd Gloria, has been a consistent supporter of the $177 billion plan

“San Diego is the nation’s eighth largest city and the heart of a bustling binational mega-region with the busiest land border crossing in the world. Every year, our regional tourism economy brings in 35 million visitors with a $19 billion economic impact,” Gloria said in support of the project. 

Gloria has a long history with SANDAG. He was one of the leaders of SANDAG’s $18 billion tax increase Measure A in 2016.  That ballot plan moved from controversy to scandal when it was revealed that voters were given inaccurate income projections. The fallout led to the resignation of long-time executive director Gary Gallegos. None of the politicians leading the effort took responsibility for the misinformation.

Bry has been more cautious about embracing tax increases before knowing specifics. Her criticism of the $177 billion SANDAG plan focused on what, she claims, is an outdated approach to transportation.

Even before COVID-19, Bry was promoting work from home, job sharing and decentralizing office space as part of a plan that relied far more on clean cars and technology advances that promised to increase the capacity of existing roads.

Bry points to a number of emerging technologies including a pilot project currently underway at UCSD that is using self-driving jitneys to transport students. The program was featured in a UCSD publication.

Henrik Christiansen, director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute, said, “We are trying to solve the ‘last mile’ problem, when autonomous vehicles get off the freeway and onto crowded neighborhood streets.”

The differences between Bry and Gloria on scooters foreshadowed the bigger fight they have had over single-family zoning. What the two fights have in common is Gloria’s support for and Bry’s opposition to industry efforts to pass legislation in Sacramento to limit the power of local government to regulate at the community level.

“Like other technical innovations – from short-term vacation rentals to ride-sharing services, City government has been slow to respond to the challenges these innovations create. In fact, industry lobbyists successfully appealed to Sacramento legislators to take away our local right to enforce reasonable safety requirements for scooters,” Bry said.

The differences between the two candidates — both life-long Democrats — are reflective of their differences in background. Gloria is plugged into the government sector, which he has been a part of since graduating from USD with a degree in history and political science.

Bry, who has a Harvard business degree, comes out of the tech sector and is far more connected to the technology innovations that she believes make the SANDAG plan obsolete before it hits the ground. Watch their interview with UT’s Editorial Board here.


Here’s a Breakdown of the '5 Big Moves'

Complete Corridors: Complete Corridors would balance the roadways for the different types of transit choices 

  • Managed Lanes would offer priority access to people using transit, carpooling and vanpooling
  • Active Transportation and Demand Management focuses on using technology to better manage traffic conditions
  • Smart Infrastructure and Connected Vehicles means high-speed communication networks will be used to share data in an effort to reduce collisions and improve traffic time 
  • EV Infrastructure: Will allow for public charging and hydrogen fueling stations to support electric vehicles 

Transit Leaps: Transit Leap would create a network of high-speed, high-capacity and high-frequency transit services. 

  • High-Speed Transit: New transit services from the trolley in San Diego to the Coaster in Carlsbad, the proposed system would offer a higher frequency in trains 
  • Transit Priority: Shorter travel times via transit would mean the addition of dedicated lanes and priority during peak hours
  • Better Integration: Transit operators would work together to bring more closely timed connections 
  • Electric Power and Alternative Fuels: New and existing services would mean more environmentally-friendly ways to keep transit moving

Mobility Hubs: Mobility Hubs would be built in areas with higher densities 

  • Walking and Biking: Mobility Hubs would bring wider walkways and protected bike lanes
  • Shared Mobility: With the rise of rideshare, carshare and other modes of transportation, Mobility Hubs will make it safer for people to travel using these modes of transportation 
  • Amenities: WiFi, electric vehicle charging, lockers and more will be stationed at each Mobility Hub

Flexible Fleets: Flexible Fleets refers to shared transportation services, including rideshare, vanshare, scootershare and shuttles. 

  • Micromobility: With the focus on sharing, Flexible Fleets will help small and low-speed vehicles support short trips around a particular community 
  • Rideshare and Ridehail: Technology-driven rideshare and vanpool vehicles will be automated in the future 
  • Microtransit: These are for 15 or less passengers that will use technology to find the most efficient route

Next OS: NEXT OS is the digital platform where all information related to the transportation of San Diego County will be stored. 

  • Residents and Businesses: The platform will allow all participants to access information and services 
  • Real-Time Data: Operators will be able to access data to optimize services 
  • Policy: The data will be used to make future policy decisions

Environmental Impact:

An environmental impact report hasn't been released. We'll likely see more details in about a year.

Here Are Some Articles Worth Checking Out:

SANDAG Offers ‘Bold Vision’ for Transit-Oriented Future in San Diego Region

SANDAG Bucks History Of Widening Freeways In New Transportation Plan

Can Hasan Ikhrata sell San Diego on a $177 billion transit plan in a pandemic?

SANDAG Audit Alleges Improper Severance Payments, Bonuses, Promotions

SANDAG’s ‘5 Big Moves’ Plan Idles in Neutral as Coronavirus Plays Out

SANDAG Goes Back To The Future: The 2007 Vision For A “Grand Central Station”

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