The world is changing and the demands facing our region – high energy costs, foreign oil dependence, water scarcity, transportation, housing, jobs, rising sea level – are, to put it mildly, taxing. But now, in a time of need, a leader steps forward and does the astonishing: state Sen.Christine Kehoe introduces legislation to meet the environmental and social challenges of a new century by prioritizing transit over the building of Interstate 5. Yes, someone steps up to meet the real resource needs of the San Diego region and gives priority to the people, their health and their communities.
It is time for change and widening I-5 is not the solution. On the other hand, the I-5 corridor is tailor-made for successful transit because a second track for the Coaster already has right of way and is just waiting to be built. And it makes sense, because to the south, the Coaster connects with the heart of region, downtown San Diego, and to the north it connects with the Sprinter, which runs inland to the cities of Vista, San Marcos and Escondido. Thus the Coaster is a vital link in connecting most of the city centers in the subregion by rail. All of these cities are undertaking major infill transit-based projects which mean transit stations will be in walking distance to many urban residents. In addition, fast, efficient double tracking rail can handle the capacity of four lanes of freeways and will thus reduce congestion instead of producing more traffic.
SANDAG wants you to believe that it is funding freeway expansion and transit at the same time. But the so-called transit plan is off somewhere in the distant future. What is being funded, expanded and built now is the same thing that has been funded and built for the past 40 years: freeways and sprawl development.
The so-called argument for building I-5 is a clever rehash of old propaganda: that the people want it, that it’s vital for the economy, that it’s necessary to relieve congestion and that it is part of a balanced transit-freeway approach that SANDAG calls the hybrid plan. But the fact is every argument for building I-5 is a salesman’s pitch filled with half-truths and developer propaganda. In truth, I-5 is exactly what the people don’t want, don’t need and, if it is ever expanded, will be obsolete the moment it is finished because it doesn’t serve the people or their community. Instead, it actually creates more congestion by promoting ever more distant subdivisions of resource land.
Here is the truth about a first-class transit system option:
• Fact 1: To find out what the people want, look at the latest authoritative survey of San Diego voters and see that an overwhelming majority prefer transit over freeways and infill transit-oriented development over sprawl housing(transitsandiego.org/transitsandiego/pdf/San_Diego_Transit_Preference_Survey.pdf).
• Fact 2: Roads don’t relieve congestion, they produce it.
• Fact 3: In a time of severe energy dependence and resource limits threatening our national security and quality of life, transit-based communities save resources and create jobs.
• Fact 4: When we build freeways to expensive future sprawl homes, we deny infrastructure to the urban areas where it is needed by most of the people.
• Fact 5: By making us ever more auto-dependent, freeways pose serious health threats to people, air quality and the environment.
• Fact 6: Transit can help lower our dependence on foreign oil. Cars consume two-thirds of our daily addiction of 20 million barrels. Military officers warn us that our foreign oil consumption constitutes a threat to national security. If the nation were to have 10 percent transit ridership, we could lessen our dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent.
The people are ahead of most local politicians and know that before gasoline hits $5 a gallon, we must begin to change from unsustainable resource-guzzling sprawl to efficient, pedestrian-friendly community building. Kehoe has made a courageous first step in that direction and citizens need to follow up by giving vigorous support to her legislative effort. Let’s leave the failed policies and sprawl-is-good-for-you propaganda behind and support a community transportation plan that works for the future.
McFetridge is director of Transitsandiego.org. Mills is a past president of the Metropolitan Transit System and was Senate president pro tem from 1971-80.