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San Diego County, California/Mid Coast Corridor

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Mid Coast Corridor

San Diego, California

(November 1998)


The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) is planning to construct a 10.7-mile light rail line and improve two commuter rail stations in the Mid-Coast Corridor. The corridor extends approximately 12 miles along I-5, from I-8 near Old Town, north to the vicinity of the University of California at San Diego, University City, and Carmel Valley. The proposed light rail extension includes 9 stations. The line would connect the existing Blue LRT line serving Mission Valley, Downtown San Diego, South Bay communities and the border with Mexico, as well as with the Coaster Commuter Rail line at the Old Town Transit Center. MTDB is pursuing Section 5309 New Starts funding on an initial 3.4-mile phase, the Balboa Extension from Old Town to Balboa Avenue. The estimated project cost is $104.6 million (escalated). The commuter rail improvements consist of the construction of a new station and the implementation of pedestrian enhancements to the existing Sorrento Coaster Commuter Rail Station.

Mid Coast Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Light rail extension and commuter rail improvements
3.4 initial phase, 3 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $104.6 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $54.7 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $4.4 million
Ridership Forecast (2015) 22,599 average daily boardings
10,256 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating applied to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The Mid Coast Locally Preferred Alternative was selected in October 1995. FTA approved the MTDB’s request to enter Preliminary Engineering (PE) for the 3.4-mile initial phase of the LRT extension in September 1996 and for the Coaster commuter rail station improvements in May 1997. The Mid Coast projects were included in the Long Range Plan and Transportation Improvement Plan in 1996.

The Coaster stations and the Phase I Balboa Light Rail Transit Extension are being combined into one initial project, and are proceeding through PE and the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) together, scheduled to be completed in January 1999. An Environmental Assessment is being prepared for the addition of parking to the existing commuter rail station and is also scheduled for completion in January 1999. TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(75) authorizes the Mid Coast LRT Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $7.06 million in Section 5309 New Start funds to the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Information reflects both the 3.4 mile initial phase of the Mid Coast LRT and the Coaster commuter rail station improvement projects. The MTDB did not provide criteria on a TSM alternative. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

MTDB estimates that the Mid Coast light rail extension and the Coaster station rail improvements will attract 10, 256 daily new riders by 2015 and would result in the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 1.1 million N/A

Based on 1990 Census data, there are an estimated 258 low-income households within a 1/2 mile radius of the proposed 3 stations, or roughly 8 percent of total households within ½ mile of proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

The San Diego region is a "serious" non-attainment area for ozone, and a moderate non-attainment area for carbon monoxide. MTDB estimates the following annual emissions reductions.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 179 annual tons N/A
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 23 annual tons N/A
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 15 annual tons N/A
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 2 annual tons N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 13,425 annual tons N/A

MTDB estimates that in 2010, the LRT extension and the Coaster station rail improvements will result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units - BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 175,016 million annual BTU N/A

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

MTDB estimates the following costs per passenger mile for the LRT extension and the Coaster station rail improvements.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2015) $0.22 N/A $0.22

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

MTDB estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $3.58 million N/A

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects some supportive land uses along parts of the corridor, but acknowledges the proactive land use planning efforts of the MTDB and the City of San Diego. The corridor contains two distinct land use patterns. Interstate 5 and the recreational facilities of Mission Bay encompass most of the area to the west of the proposed rail alignment. The eastern portion of the corridor contains residential, commercial, and industrial development. Residential multiple family housing development is planned around the proposed light rail stations. The Nobel Drive Coaster Station serves the University Towne Center, a dense multi-use area containing 1 million square feet of retail space, office buildings, high density residential space, and hotels. Extensive pedestrian paths, pedestrian amenities, and pedestrian-oriented street design are incorporated in the University Community Plan. The City of San Diego adopted transit-oriented development design guidelines to provide a framework for redevelopment strategies, street and circulation system design, and transit facility design. The Regional Growth Management Strategy produced by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) encourages more intense residential and commercial development around rail stations. The MTDB has established joint development policies for all of its properties. An extensive community planning process forms the basis for land use planning in San Diego.

The City of San Diego has made steps to reduce the supply of parking around transit. City policy allows developers to reduce parking supply for multi-family dwellings and commercial areas near transit by 15% and for mixed-use developments based on shared parking ratios.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 48%

The financial plan for the 3.4 mile initial phase of Mid Coast LRT and the Coaster Stations includes $54.7 million (52 percent) in Section 5309 New Start funds, $0.6 million in Section 5307 funds, $6.8 million (7 percent) in State funds, and $42.9 million (41 percent) in local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the fact that all non-Federal funds proposed for the project have been formally committed by state and local decisionmakers. The proposed Federal share has decreased from 63 percent of total project cost to 52 percent since last year’s Annual New Starts Report. The high rating reflects the fact that all non-Federal funds proposed for this project have been committed by state and local decision makers. The largest single source of local funds originates from a 1/2 cent Transnet sales tax. This source has the financial capacity to fund the Mid Coast project as well as Mission Valley East and Oceanside-to-Escondido Commuter Rail projects for the Region. State funding sources are estimated to contribute approximately 7 percent of project capital costs and these funds are programmed in the current State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). Cost estimates appear realistic given the project size. MTDB notes that the Federal contribution to the total San Diego Light Rail system since the first line opened in 1981 will total 32 percent, including both the proposed Mission Valley East and the Mid Coast corridor projects.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High operating plan rating reflects the project’s dedicated operating revenue stream and the availability of reasonable and sound contingency funds to cover the project’s operations. The overall operating financial condition of MTDB appears strong. A proposed annual operating budget is estimated to be $4.4 million. Approximately 54 percent of the operating funds are expected to come from farebox revenues. MTDB has been experiencing an increasing farebox recovery ratio and increasing ridership. Other sources of operating funds includes the state Transportation Development Act (TDA) funds and local Transnet sales tax; both of these funds are committed, reliable, and offer sufficient capacity to operate and maintain the existing system while implementing the Mid Coast projects.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $54.7 $9.05 million appropriated through FY 1999
Section 5307 Funds $0.6


TCI $1.8


STIP $5.0


TransNet Tax $42.5


Total: $104.6

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Mid Coast Corridor Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact