San Diego, California/Mission Valley East LRT Extension

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Mission Valley East LRT Extension

San Diego, California

(November 1999)

(click here for map)


The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) is planning to build a 5.9-mile Mission Valley East Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension of its Blue Line. The project would extend the existing system from its current termini east of Interstate 15 to the City of La Mesa, where it would connect to the existing Orange Line near Baltimore Drive. The line would serve four new stations at Grantville, San Diego State University (SDSU), Alvarado Medical Center and 70th Street, as well as two existing stations at Mission San Diego and Grossmont Center. The proposed project would include elevated, at-grade, and tunnel portions and provide two park and ride lots and a new access road between Waring Road and the Grantville Station. The total project capital cost is $431.0 million (escalated dollars). The project is expected to serve approximately 10,800 average weekday boardings in the corridor by 2015.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light rail extension

5.9 miles, 4 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

Section 5309 Share($YOE)

$431.0 million

$330.0 million

Annual Operating Cost ($YOE):

$6.8 million

Ridership Forecast (2015):

10,800 avg. weekday boardings

7,400 daily new riders

FY 2001 Finance Rating:

FY 2001Project Justification Rating:

FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:



Highly Recommended

The overall project rating of Highly Recommended is based primarily on the strong transit supportive land use policies in place along the proposed extension and the high level of local funding committed to construct and operate the project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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 Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was completed in May 1997. The Locally Preferred Alternative was selected by the Metropolitan Transit Development Board in October 1997 with concurrence from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG, the local metropolitan planning organization). FTA approval to enter the preliminary engineering (PE) phase of project development was granted in March 1998. Preliminary engineering was completed in July 1998. This abbreviated schedule for PE was possible due to the extensive public involvement and detailed analyses undertaken during the

planning stages, streamlining much of the work that would traditionally be undertaken in the PE phase. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was completed and the Record of Decision (ROD) was issued in August 1998. FTA approval to enter final design was granted in October 1998. Negotiations between FTA and the MTDB for a Full Funding Grant Agreement are underway.

Section 3030(a)(76) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorized the project for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $22.11 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds to this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. With FTA’s concurrence, the MTDB did not provide information on a TSM alternative. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in final design.


The Medium-High project justification rating reflects the high number of significant trip generators along the corridor and the active land use planning and development efforts of local agencies and institutions, as well as the adequacy of all other justification criteria.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

The 5.9 mile extension is expected to serve 10,800 average weekday boardings and 7,400 daily new riders by 2015. MTDB estimates the following annual travel time savings.


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

1.9 million


Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 1,049 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed four stations, roughly 18 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 projects the following annual emissions reductions.




Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions.

MTDB estimates that in 2015, the LRT would result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units -BTU).


Annual Energy Savings

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

MTDB estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile in the year 2015 for the Mission Valley East extension and the No-Build alternative.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2015)




Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium

MTDB estimates the following cost effectiveness measure:



New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.



Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High land use rating reflects the high number of significant trip generators along the corridor and the active land use planning and development efforts of local agencies and institutions.

Existing Conditions: The corridor runs parallel to Interstate 8 in eastern San Diego and

La Mesa. The 5.9 mile extension is characterized by a mix of low- to moderate-density industrial, commercial, and residential uses, but includes several major activity centers such as San Diego State University, the Grossmont Regional shopping center, San Diego State University (SDSU), Kaiser Hospital, the Alvarado Medical Center, and the Grantville employment area. Over 24,000 jobs and nearly 10,000 housing units, are located within ½ mile of proposed station sites. The entire LRT corridor (La Mesa to Downtown San Diego) contains over 160,000 jobs, and is expected to contain nearly 200,000 jobs by 2010. Parking is restricted in the corridor east of the Stadium, especially in the area surrounding SDSU. Existing zoning in the corridor is generally supportive of transit.

Future Plans and Policies: The City of San Diego has implemented extensive measures to encourage higher-density, mixed use development around rail stations, including the development and adoption of Transit-Oriented Development Design Guidelines to address redevelopment strategies, street and circulation systems, bicycle and pedestrian systems, transit stop site location and design, and parking supply. The MTDB has been very active in fostering transit-oriented development and has recently adopted a memorandum of understanding that enhances coordination between the MTDB and other local government agencies for joint use and joint development of its properties.

The City of San Diego and the San Diego State University Foundation have undertaken a 59 acre mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented urban village redevelopment project adjacent to the SDSU campus. SDSU plans to integrate the LRT station into the heart of the redevelopment project. Other local plans along the corridor have responded to regional supports for transit-oriented development. The Grossmont Specific Plan, adopted by the City of La Mesa, proposes the joint development with MTDB of a complex of high intensity office, retail, and housing on an MTDB-owned site.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 23%

The financial plan includes $330.0 of Section 5309 New Starts funds (77 percent), $13.7 million of CMAQ flexible funds (3 percent), $67.8 million in State funds (16 percent), and $19.5 million in local funding (5 percent). State and local contributions to the complete LRT trolley system currently in place in the San Diego metropolitan area constitutes approximately 92 percent of the total system cost.


Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the sound financial condition of the MTDB and the agency’s strong dedicated revenue sources.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The MTDB is in good financial condition with an existing capital balance of over $16 million. Historically, the MTDB has placed minimal reliance on Federal funding assistance for the development of its regional LRT system, relying instead on its stable and reliable funding sources.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates for the project have increased by nearly 20 percent since November 1998. These changes are the result of value engineering and other cost analysis completed in the last year. Project cost estimates and contingencies are reasonable.

Existing and Committed Funding: All $101 million in non-New Starts funding is committed to the project. The MTDB has documented adequate commitment from the State of California for nearly $68 million in State Gas Tax revenues. MTDB’s TransNet revenue is a stable and reliable funding source and is committed to the Mission Valley East Extension project.

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed for construction of the Mission Valley East Extension.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the MTDB’s strong operating condition. Revenues to operate the proposed Mission Valley East Extension are adequate.

Agency Operating Condition: In recent years, MTDB has experienced zero operating balances, moderate cost increases, and increasing ridership. MTDB has strong fund balances to draw from to cover unexpected financial problems.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual project operating costs are estimated at $6.8 million in 2015 (escalated dollars), which appears reasonable. The MTDB has significant experience operating light rail transit. With the exception of FY 2006 – FY 2009 when operating surpluses are not expected, MTDB’s systemwide cash flow indicates moderate positive operating balances to address potential operating cost overruns.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the project’s proposed sources of operating funding are considered existing and committed. MTDB has a very ambitious system expansion plan for the next 20 years. MTDB’s operating plan forecasts an increase in its farebox recovery ratio from 47 percent in 1998 to 58 percent by 2015. This rate of increase assumes a 5 percent annual increase in fare revenues, which is optimistic. State Transit Development Act and Transit

Assistance revenues cover approximately 30 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of MTDB’s operating costs. TransNet is proposed to contribute 8 percent of project operating costs through 2008, at which point the source is terminated. Additional funding for operations come from various local sources and are considered stable and committed.

New and Proposed Sources: Proposed operating revenue sources currently exist. San Diego State University is contributing some operating revenue to MTDB.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($22.11 Million appropriated through FY 2000)
  Flexible Funds (CMAQ)








  Transnet Sales Tax


$1.0 million in-kind ROW donation not included in total



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

Mission Valley East LRT Extension (map)