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San Diego, California/Mid Coast Corridor

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Mid Coast Corridor

San Diego, California

(November 2000)


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. The estimated project cost of Phase 1 is $116.7 million (escalated), with a Section 5309 New Starts share of $42.2 million.

Mid Coast Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project 3.4 mile, 3 station LRT extension
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $116.7 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $42.2 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $2.1 million
Ridership Forecast (2015) 12,100 average weekday boardings
9,900 daily new riders
FY 2002 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2002 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2002 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating of Highly Recommended is based on the project’s strong cost-effectiveness, good 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 2000. 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. A Record of Decision on the project is anticipated in Spring 2001.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(75) authorizes the Mid Coast LRT Corridor for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, 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. 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 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 will serve 12,100 average weekday boardings and attract 9,900 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) 0.8 million N/A

Based on 1998 data, there are an estimated 258 low-income households within a 1/2 mile radius of the proposed 3 LRT 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 2015, the LRT extension 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 cost per passenger mile for the LRT extension.

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 index for the project.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $3.20 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 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: 64%

The financial plan for the 3.4 mile initial phase of Mid Coast LRT and the Nobel Coaster Station includes $42.2 million (36 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funding, $519,000 (0.4 percent) in FTA Section 5307 funds, $56.5 million (48 percent) in dedicated TransNet local sales tax revenues, $10 million (9 percent) from the State Traffic Congestion Relief Fund, $7 million (6 percent) from the State Transportation Improvement Program, and $485,000 (0.4 percent) in State Transit Capital Improvement funds.

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 been refined and have decreased over the last year, primarily because the Nobel Drive Coaster station is no longer a portion of this project. 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. The San Diego LRT extension program has been structured such that the Mission Valley East LRT project and the Mid-Coast extension are built sequentially and will not compete with each other for New Starts funding. Both projects also depend on local TransNet funding for a portion of their construction costs and the 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 $1.9 million in 2015 (YOE dollars). The proposed extension would increase the system-wide operating budget by 1 percent. 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: The proposed start-up date for the Mid-Coast Corridor Phase one is estimated to be in 2008. This coincides with the date that the TransNet dedicated funding source will sunset, and this source is proposed to contribute 8 percent of system operating costs through 2008, at which point the source is terminated. Other sources of operating funding proposed are farebox revenues and CMAQ funds, and only farebox revenues are committed to the project.

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

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $42.2 $11.33 million appropriated through FY 2000
Section 5307 Funds $0.5


State TIP $7.0


Traffic Congestion Relief Fund $10.0


Transit Capital Improvement $0.4


TransNet Tax $56.5


Total: $116.7

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 of 10.7 mile, 9 station light rail transit (LRT) line 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.

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