The Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project has been stalled due to vernal pools along route.
A plan to connect the Metropolitan Transit System’s trolley network to UCSD has stalled after the discovery of vernal pools containing an endangered species of shrimp along the planned route.
San Diego Association of Governments’ plan to build several MTS Blue Line light rail train stations on campus, as part of the SANDAG Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project, is currently in a period of environmental planning and surveying. The planned 11-mile light rail extension from Old Town to La Jolla is currently routed to inadvertently cross through several regional vernal pools that house a tiny species of “fairy” shrimp.
Branchinecta sandiegonensis, also known as the San Diego fairy shrimp, is a federally listed endangered and protected species of. Fairy shrimp generally vary from eight to 16 millimeters in length and are mostly native to San Diego and Baja California.
However, UCSD Director of Physical & Community Planning Robert Clossin said that there are no known vernal pools on the La Jolla campus that house fairy shrimp.
“The shrimp should not have any impact on the UCSD portion of the project,” Clossin said. “We’re excited to see the trolley on campus, and we’d prefer sooner rather than later.”
SANDAG’s board of directors discussed the discovery of the fairy shrimp at its May 9 meeting. Officials announced that an expected finalization for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Subsequent Environmental Impact Report — both of which include references to the fairy shrimp — will take place later this year.
“The fairy shrimp could cause a one to four month processing delay for the environmental reports,” SANDAG Senior Public Information Officer David Hicks said. “However, signs are good that the delay will be shorter than that.”
Hicks said that SANDAG is in the process of securing funding under the federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for up to half of the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project construction costs. The fairy shrimp discovery could delay the federal approval of the environmental impact report, which could cause SANDAG to miss the February 2015 deadline to apply for federal project funding. This could postpone construction on the extension until 2019.
In June 2013, a spokesman for SANDAG told the UCSD Guardian that officials expected construction to be completed by 2018. SANDAG’s current estimate, according to Hicks, is that the trolley extension will be operational either at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.
“When they start saying either late one year or early the next year, we usually accept the later date as more accurate,” Hicks said.
Clossin said that other campus development plans, such as a new baseball stadium, may benefit from the trolley’s arrival on campus. Last month, UCSD Athletics announced plans for a large renovation to the East Campus Triton Ballpark — which is near one of SANDAG’s planned trolley stations for the Blue Line extension on East Campus.
“We have good collaboration with other departments’ projects and other campus projects have been informed by the trolley plans,” Clossin said. “A station near the [new] baseball stadium would be a good thing.”
Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Grosse said that it is too early to determine the stadium renovation’s impact on the trolley extension.
“Obviously, the trolley line is going to go outside the outfield fence,” Grosse said. “We haven’t yet gotten to a point where we can recognize the overall effect that the ballpark plan will have.”
With the prospect of student-trolley ridership on campus beginning in several years, UCSD students will vote on a fee increase that would fund unlimited ridership on MTS buses and trains next week. Clossin said his office didn’t have any direct interests in the transportation referendum but that his office “is on board” with more students utilizing public transit.
“From a planning perspective, we’re excited about new campus developments with alternate transportation,” he said.