I-5 Expansion: Great Idea, But Don’t Increase Traffic

We’re facing potential cuts of the popular Nobel and Arriba shuttles as well as the elimination of the free Bus Zone program. And now, the city of San Diego is in a period of public input to discuss the North Coast Corridor Program — a proposal that would add two lanes to each side of the I-5 freeway starting from UCSD’s own exit at La Jolla Village Drive and running all the way to Oceanside.

This proposal would add an additional 27 miles of train track along the coast for additional use by Amtrak and the Coaster. If passed, this project will be a beneficial expansion to San Diego’s less than stellar public transportation system. But it would not be completed until 2040, and the inevitable 27 years of construction are likely to incite traffic for UCSD students and La Jolla residents alike. The plan is currently under a 60-day period of public input, but it’s the California Coastal Commission that has final say over the project. Some minimal construction has already begun, but the bulk of it is planned to start in 2015 and be phased in until completion in 2040.

For UCSD students and workers who take the I-5 freeway to commute to school and/or travel home for vacations, traffic is a major nuisance, and it’s enlightening to see that the city is addressing the issue. The NCC will cost $6.5 billion of federal, state and local money through the voter-approved program Transnet, which uses a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects.

The city’s commitment to the environmental aspect of the plan is noble as well: The expansion would affect six San Diego lagoons, and Caltrans has planned to build freeway bridges above three of the lagoons, which would increase water flow and improve the overall health of the water, according to the Union Tribune San Diego article, “Year Ahead Presents Key Hurdles for I-5 Expansion.” The additional four lanes of traffic are also going to reduce congestion, which will improve air quality.

UCSD students are usually only guaranteed to live in San Diego for four years before moving on after graduation, so it doesn’t seem selfish for us to want to know how this project is going to affect us right here and right now. Transnet has released a lot of information explaining why this program will be so great in the future, but they’ve failed to address the burning questions of how this project is going to affect San Diego in the meantime.

In regards to the city’s transportation changes, UCSD’s Transportation Services will need to reevaluate the timing of their own cuts as to not leave students high and dry in the wake of this transportation turmoil.

Although cuts to the university’s transportation services have been tabled indefinitely, the contentious and uneasy feelings regarding the potential cuts are still apparent among students. Tabling the cuts is a small and temporary victory but with new information regarding the NCC proposal, a proactive approach must be taken by TPS to accommodate students’ transportation needs in an affordable yet cost-effective way. There doesn’t seem to be one clear solution, but there are definite changes on the horizon, which means student input is crucial at this time.

This is a timely opportunity for TPS to pull through for students and find a proper compromise for this difficult issue. Luckily, an 11-mile extension of the Mid-Coast Corridor trolley is to be completed by 2015 with stops at Gilman Drive, Nobel Drive, Price Center, Genesee Avenue and University Town Center, which may serve as a buffer for the ongoing problem of transportation in a just a couple of years rather than a couple of decades.