San Diego, California/Mid Coast Corridor

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Mid Coast Corridor

San Diego, California

(November 1999)

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The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) is proposing to implement a 10.7 mile, 9 station light rail transit (LRT) line and improve several commuter rail stations in the San Diego Mid Coast Corridor. Proposed investments in the corridor are intended to alleviate congestion on Interstate 5 by extending light rail service north from downtown San Diego to the vicinity of the University of California at San Diego and the growing University City and Carmel Valley areas of the region, and to enhance connectivity between the region’s LRT and Coaster commuter rail systems. The MTDB has proposed as Phase 1 of the project a 3.4-mile, 3 station Balboa extension from the Old Town Transit Center to Balboa Avenue, and the construction of a new Coaster station at Nobel Drive in University City. The estimated project cost of Phase 1 is $123.0 million (escalated), with a Section 5309 New Starts share of $48.3 million.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

3.4 mile, 3 station LRT extension and new commuter rail station

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE):

$123.0 million

$48.3 million

Annual Operating Cost ($YOE):

$2.1 million

Ridership Forecast (2015):

22,600 avg. weekday boardings

10,300 daily new riders

FY 2001 Finance Rating:

FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:

FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:



Highly Recommended

The overall project rating of Highly Recommended is based on the project’s strong cost- effectiveness, adequate transit supportive land use, and strong local financial commitment. The overall project rating applied 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.


A Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Mid Coast Corridor was completed in February 1995. The Mid Coast Locally Preferred Alternative was selected in October 1995 and included in the regional Long Range Plan in 1996. 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 improvements to the Sorrento Valley and Nobel Drive Coaster commuter rail stations in May 1997.

The Sorrento Valley Coaster station received a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in September 1999. Work is continuing on a Final EIS for the Balboa Extension and Nobel Coaster station. A Record of Decision on the project is anticipated in Spring 2000.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(75) authorizes the Mid Coast LRT Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $11.33 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 Nobel Coaster commuter rail station project. With FTA’s permission, the MTDB did not provide criteria on a TSM alternative. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium-High project justification rating reflects the project’s strong cost effectiveness and adequate mobility improvements and transit supportive land use.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

MTDB estimates that the Mid Coast light rail extension and the Coaster station rail improvements will serve 22,600 average weekday boardings and attract 10,300 daily new riders by 2015, and would result in the following annual travel time savings.


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

0.8 million


Based on 1998 data, there are an estimated 405 low-income households within a 1/2 mile radius of the proposed 3 LRT and 1 Commuter Rail 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.


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 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.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

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




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2015)




Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

MTDB estimates the following cost effectiveness index for the project.



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

The Medium land use rating reflects the marginally transit supportive development that currently exists in the Mid Coast corridor, but acknowledges the proactive land use planning efforts of the MTDB and the City of San Diego.

Existing Conditions: The corridor runs parallel to Interstate 5 in northwest San Diego. The area on the east side of the corridor is dominated by single-family homes with some low- to medium-density commercial, multi-family, and industrial development. The pedestrian environment is characterized by a gridded street pattern in residential areas. The corridor is bordered on the west side by the recreational facilities of Mission Bay and some commercial development. Over 14,000 jobs and nearly 7,000 housing units (1995 data) are located within ½ mile of proposed LRT and commuter rail station sites. Significant trip generators along the Balboa LRT extension include the mixed-use Mission City and Rio Vista developments. The Nobel Drive Coaster commuter rail station will serve the University City suburban activity center, including University Town Centre --- the fourth largest shopping area in the MTDB service area. Significant population and employment growth is forecasted for this area. Parking is generally constrained throughout the corridor. Current zoning along the corridor is moderately 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 City also participates in a number of programs which provide incentives for improving pedestrian and transit access. 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, and establishes a process for allocating some MTDB funding to jurisdictions based on their adoption of transit-friendly design standards. SANDAG, the area’s metropolitan planning organization, provides funding to member jurisdictions to plan for and implement growth management and sustainability strategies

Efforts to change zoning are progressing with the introduction of special parking zones and Urban Village and Transit Area overlay zones throughout the city. Station area plans along the Balboa Extension are under development, and are being coordinated with the North (San Diego) Bay Revitalization program and redevelopment plans for a shopping center at the proposed Claremont Drive station.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 61%

The financial plan for the 3.4 mile initial phase of Mid Coast LRT and the Nobel Coaster Station includes $48.3 million (39 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funding, $74.4 million (61 percent) in dedicated TransNet local sales tax revenues, and $288,000 in state gas tax revenues.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the sound financial condition of the MTDB and the agency’s strong dedicated revenue sources. The MTDB’s Mission Valley East LRT Extension remains the agency’s priority, and the capacity of local funding sources to implement both it and the Mid Coast Phase I project is the later project’s only significant risk at this time.

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 18 percent over the last year. These changes are the result of cost escalation due to project development delays and the redesign of some project elements. These costs are considered reasonable given the project size and alignment.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-New Starts funding for the project is committed. MTDB’s dedicated ½ cent TransNet sales tax revenue is considered a stable and reliable source, although the tax sunsets in 2008 and will have to be reauthorized to continue. SANDAG has undertaken some analysis which suggests that TransNet may yield sufficient funding to meet the needs of both the Mission Valley East East Extension and Phase I of the Mid Coast project, although MTDB acknowledges that it must reassess TransNet’s revenue projections before the Balboa LRT advances into final design. State gas tax revenues of $288,000 have also been committed to the project.

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed for the construction of Phase I of the Mid Coast corridor.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the MTDB’s healthy operating condition. Revenues to operate the proposed Balboa LRT 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 operating costs.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating costs for the project are estimated at $2.1 million in 2015 (YOE dollars). Operating cost estimates appear 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 cash flow indicates moderate positive operating balances to address potential cost overruns.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the project’s proposed sources of operating funding are existing and committed. 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 system operating costs through 2008, at which point the source is terminated. Despite significant increases in ridership and in the MTDB’s farebox recovery ratio in recent years, the agency’s estimated 2015 farebox recovery rate of 58 percent appears optimistic. Additional funding for operations come from various local sources and are considered stable and committed.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenue sources currently exist.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($11.33 million appropriated through FY 2000)
  Gas Tax Revenue


  TransNet Tax





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)