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San Diego (Mid Coast Corridor)

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Mid Coast Corridor

San Diego County, California

(November 1996)


The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB), the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) are proposing commuter rail improvements, a light rail line extension, and high occupancy vehicle lanes in the Mid-Coast Corridor. The corridor extends about 12 miles along I-5 from I-8 near Old Town, north to the vicinity of the University of California at San Diego, University Towne Centre shopping mall, and Carmel Valley.

The commuter rail improvements consist of the construction of a new station and the addition of parking to one existing station on the Coaster commuter rail line. This aspect of the project is estimated to cost $5.7 million (1992 dollars).

The 10.4-mile Mid-Coast LRT project would extend from Old Town to North University City, and would include nine stations. The line would connect with the Mission Valley and South LRT lines and the Coaster line at the Old Town Transit Center. A 3.4 mile initial phase is proposed from Old Town to Balboa Avenue at a cost of $77 million. The full build LRT line and supporting bus services are estimated to cost $353.3 million (1992 dollars). The line is forecast to attract 15,600 riders per day.

The proposed HOV lanes would be built by Caltrans in the median of I-5 between Carmel Mountain Road and I-8. The 11.6-mile project would connect with HOV lanes being planned and designed north of this segment. The HOV lanes are expected to cost $148.7 million (1992 dollars).


Section 3035(u) of ISTEA directed FTA to sign a multiyear grant agreement with MTDB providing $27 million for the completion of alternatives analysis and the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and to purchase right-of-way. Through FY 1997, Congress has appropriated $5.57 million of which $2.64 million has been reprogrammed or rescinded.

The Mid-Coast alternatives analysis began in 1990 and a draft EIS was circulated in March 1995. In October 1995, the MTD Board selected the Locally Preferred Alternative described above. The LRT project is included in the Regional Transportation Plan and the Regional Transportation Improvement Program.

In September 1996, FTA authorized MTDB to initiate preliminary engineering (PE) and the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the 3.4 mile Phase I segment. PE/EIS for the second phase of the LRT project will be requested at a future date, after a financial plan is secured. In early 1997, MTDB will submit a PE request for the Coaster Stations. The Coaster Stations will then be incorporated into the Phase I segment that is currently in PE.


Mobility Improvements - Freeways and arterial streets in the corridor are congested due to rapid growth and the lack of alternative routes. Existing bus service must contend with the same highway congestion as the private auto. The LRT line is expected to reduce travel time by 3,260 hours (compared with the TSM alternative).

Cost Effectiveness - The cost effectiveness index is $3.50 per new trip for Phase 1 of the LRT alternative and $7 per new trip for the full build LRT alternative (1992 dollars, 2005 ridership).

Environmental Benefits - The San Diego region is a "serious" non-attainment area for ozone and in compliance for carbon monoxide. MTDB estimates that the preferred alternative would reduce regional vehicle miles traveled by almost 0.2 percent.

Operating Efficiencies - In 2005, MTDB's systemwide operating cost per passenger is projected to be $3.00 for the No-Build alternative, $3.08 for the TSM, $3.10 with the HOV lane, $3.07 for the Phase 1 LRT alternative and $3.04 for the full build LRT alternative.


In 1987 San Diego voters approved a 1/2 cent local sales tax dedicated to transportation. One-third of the revenues, or $750 million over 20 years, is earmarked for capital improvements to public transit, and a major share of this is for LRT extensions.

The proposed Section 5309 New Start share for the commuter rail improvements is 17 percent, or $.97 million. The balance would be derived from state funds and local sales tax funds.

The following ratings are based on the Full Build LRT line ($353.3 million). Funds are available to build portions of both the Mission Valley East and Mid-Coast lines. However, sufficient funds are not available to build both lines in their entirety. Funding in place and projected to be available from the state are as follows: $1.20 million in state Transit Capital Improvement, $5.03 million in state rail funds, $9.17 million in Transnet local sales tax funds. The capital finance plan is rated "low." It should be noted that the MTDB is advancing several LRT projects without Federal funding. These include an LRT line from downtown to Old Town (completed), a West Mission Valley Line (opening fall 1997), and an extension of the East Line to Santee. The MTDB has designated the Mission Valley East corridor as first priority for any additional funds that may become available.

A variety of potential sources have been considered for the Mid-Coast LRT line's operating expenses. The MTDB is likely to have sufficient resources to operate light rail in the Mid-Coast Corridor, although additional operating revenues will be needed after the entire light rail system is completed. The stability and reliability of operating assistance is rated "low."

The HOV project is to be implemented by Caltrans using highway funds. However, funds are not available at this time to begin the project.

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Federal: Section 5309 New Start $61.60 ($2.94 million appropriated through FY 1997
State/Local: $15.40
Total: $77.00

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions.

Other Factors

Assessment of Land Use Policies and Conditions: This project participated in the FTA Office of Planning's pilot assessment of land use and conditions (as a pilot for evaluation and rating of transit-supportive land use policies as a new start criterion, beginning in FY 1999). This pilot application is described earlier in this report. High incremental growth in employment is anticipated around key stations. The City of San Diego and SANDAG have adopted policies and guidelines favoring transit oriented development. Various TOD manuals, videos, guidelines and statements of policy have been provided to potential developers. SANDAG has been given a limited authority to deal with the issue of growth management. Recently, the parking element of the citywide TDM plan was rescinded. Revisions to the city zoning code have been proposed to encourage TOD.

Joint development prospects are promising at two, and possibly other, station locations. Two efforts are currently underway related to the Clairemont Drive Station. One, sponsored by SANDAG, involves local architects and planners drafting a design for joint development at and adjacent to the station. The other is an FTA pilot project to quantify the benefits of joint development for use in evaluating proposed rail projects.

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