By Dave Schwab
Renewed talk of a Caltrans/SANDAG plan to widen state Route 94 between the 805 and 5 interstates adding HOV lanes has Uptown neighbors scrambling to reassert their opposition while crying foul.
“It would bring no benefit to us — only detriment,” Valentina Molten of Golden Hill said about the freeway project, which if completed, would “add noise and emissions negatively impacting our health and further fragmenting our communities.”
“It’s been proven in Los Angeles that the addition of lanes doesn’t really decongest the traffic in the long term – they fill back up right away,” said Valerie Pasquetto, also of Golden Hill.
Residents feel local government is going back on its word, she added. “They (officials) told us they wouldn’t go forward with freeway expansion without getting back to the communities. And now they’re (SANDAG’s) talking about a November ballot initiative (to do that),” Pasquetto said.
Edward Cartagena, Caltrans media information officer, discussed the status quo of the SR 94 expansion project.
“Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments have agreed to study community-based alternatives as part of the state Route 94 Express Lanes draft environmental document,” he said. “These studies are currently on-going, and we estimate the distribution of the revised DRAFT EIR in 2018.”
Victoria Curran, another Golden Hill resident opposed to SR 94’s expansion, said “nobody is saying we want everybody out of their cars or to get rid of freeways: We know that’s not realistic.”
But Curran added, “It cuts both ways. You build more freeways — more cars will come. We want more transit options — trolleys, buses, bike lanes and paths — that people will use. Building more freeways is not going to achieve the goal of reducing congestion and pollution.”
It’s the second go-round for the freeway infrastructure improvement project, which first surfaced more than a year ago. The SR 94 Express Lanes Project proposes to connect I-805 South Express Lanes with Downtown San Diego by constructing two new Express Lanes along SR 94, one in each direction, and a new direct connector between SR 94 and I-805.
The Express Lanes would accommodate new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, in addition to carpools/vanpools traveling between South Bay and Downtown connecting to a wider network of Express Lanes on I-805, and at a future date on state Route 15.
Renewed discussion of reviving the SR 94 Express Lanes Project has brought renewed opposition.
Pasquetto, Molten and Curran previously were involved in organizing neighborhood opposition not only in Golden Hill, but also in Sherman Heights, Bankers Hill, University Heights, Mission Hills and South Park. A previous petition drive in those communities netted nearly 1,000 signatures in opposition to the project in a matter of weeks.
Due in part to public opposition to the SR 94 Express Lanes project, a draft environmental impact report for it, which was to have been released last summer for public review, was indefinitely delayed.
Previously, Caltrans noted that SR 94, built in the late 1950s, has since become one of the most congested highways during the morning commute in San Diego County. SANDAG studies also have estimated that nearly 1 million more people will reside in San Diego County by 2030.
SANDAG/Caltrans officials have said that the SR94 Express Lanes Project has a number of objectives including: encouraging people to get out of their cars and use mass transit; provide additional lanes between on- and off-ramps; replace non-standard, left-hand connectors at the SR 94/SR 15 interchange; reduce commute times for travelers heading into Downtown using the South Bay Bus Rapid Transit; and facilitate vanpools/carpools reducing congestion while offering more commuting choices.
Now the SR 94 Express Lanes Project may be back for another bite out of the apple. And Uptown residents say they’ll be ready for it.
“This is a project that, in our opinion, is not needed,” Molten said. “We want them to be more creative in coming up with transportation alternatives.”
“This project would be very close, 200 yards, from people’s windows,” Pasquetto said. “It would be terrible.”
“This project is exactly the way it was before,” Curran said. “They’re asking the same communities that have already struggled to pay the price, to continue to pay the price.”
Pasquetto wrote a “call to action” recently via social media: “SANDAG is attempting to include the SR-94 freeway expansion as one of the projects that would be funded by a new tax that they plan to put on the November ballot. Adding the SR-94 (2HOV from I-5 to I-805) and the SR94/I-805 HOV connectors in the ballot initiative is a breach of public trust, because it will lock the region into funding this freeway expansion, and it demonstrates SANDAG’s true intentions to continue the project as originally proposed, rather than give serious consideration to community-supported alternatives that put transit first. Our community will oppose the ballot initiative if these projects are included.”
Monique G. López, senior planner and policy advocate with the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), said adding HOV lanes is not the right solution.
“EHC is currently working in a coalition with environmental, labor and community-based organizations to advocate for better and affordable transit, good jobs, safer streets and clean air,” she told San Diego Uptown News.
“What SANDAG is proposing falls very short of this vision. Specifically, EHC is very concerned and opposed to projects that add lanes for expanded car capacity because it will increase air pollution in environmental justice communities, elevate emissions that contribute to climate change, and ultimately fails as a solution to traffic congestion over time.”
López criticized SANDAG for reneging on its promise to residents.
“Community residents have been engaged in advocating for a better approach to SR 94 corridor planning. As a result, in July 2015, SANDAG promised the community that they would take a fair look at other alternatives for the SR-94 corridor that did not allow for increased car capacity, but rather allowed for greater transit use. Additionally, SANDAG committed to implementing a pilot study for bus rapid transit on-shoulder, as an alternative to expanding the freeway,” she said.
“These are things the community celebrated. But now, SANDAG is proposing on adding the SR-94 (2HOV from I-5 to I-805) and the SR94/I-805 HOV connectors in the ballot initiative. We see this as a breach of public trust because the way the ballot initiative is worded, SANDAG is proposing to move forward with a plan that the community greatly opposed. Therefore, we stand by the community in opposing the inclusion of the SR 94 in the ballot initiative.”
— Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.