Phase This, or
Dumb or Dumber?

by Carolyn Chase


ouncil member Barbara Warden was quick to take credit last week when the Transportation Committee of SANDAG recommended approving $47 million in funding to connect State Route 56 between Interstate 5 just north of the 5/805 merge and Interstate 15 at Carmel Mountain Rd.

"My goal is to ride on 56 in the year 2000," Warden trumpeted. But according to current plans and finances, she won't be able to make a smooth transition from 56 east onto 5 north because they aren't planning to put a connector ramp there.

This is just one major detail that few elected officials and developers wish to talk about when it comes to dealing with growth in the so-called North City Future Urbanizing Area or NCFUA (though some have suggested that if developers have their way it will be the NCAFU).

SR-56 is proposed to empty right onto I-5, the most westerly, major north-south interstate running from Mexico to Canada. Oddly enough, officials are not planning on building ramps for eastbound drivers to go north or for southbound drivers to go east. Think about it.

Consider also that developers are bringing forth proposals to permit at least 28,000 new housing units (just the ones I've heard about so far) in the area. Think about that, too.

Within the last year, how many of you have driven through the 5/805 merge, in either direction and been stuck? How many of you have been stuck on I-15 recently?

If SR-56 were opened today - without the additional surrounding units - maybe it would help resolve some of the I-5 and I-15 problems. But proposed new developments will generate such a high number of additional daily trips feeding onto I-5 and I-15. Even without an updated cumulative analysis of proposed projects, they are already planning to meter the southbound ramp from SR-56 onto I-5, due to expected backups there.

There is no current comprehensive traffic estimate showing what the real, cumulative average daily trips onto SR-56 are likely to be. If more than 50,000 new residents are going to move there, and most development will require a car to live there, and no transit is being funded to go there, and it's likely they will average one car each, well, you get the picture.

Developers, planners and elected officials seem to think that the public is going to fall for the idea that connecting up two badly jammed freeways, and then adding thousands of new units without transit service feeding onto 56 - all bound for those two freeways - is somehow going to all work out. It will work out only by lowering everyone's quality of life.

Phasing will handle it, we are being told. Somehow, by allowing them to build it in parts, it will all add up to something better in the end.

How dumb do they think we are? A badly designed system doesn't get better just because you built it in parts. All large-scale systems have to be built and financed in parts anyway. What we need are systems designed to function, not designed to pay off road builders and developers.

Community groups have been on record for years complaining that this freeway has been badly, badly planned. Today's problems were accurately predicted, just as we can figure out tomorrow's problems with Ms. Warden's L.A.-like freeway fantasy.

But rather than listen to community leaders, politicians have continued to believe that their job is to push through and deliver the goods for any multi-million project that they can get - regardless of whether it's the right project.

Why don't they press on to require good design and solutions that work and deliver the support and funding for that? You tell me. The answer to this question is essentially why San Diegans have supported - and will likely continue to support "ballot box planning." Ballot box planning is necessary in San Diego because it's the only kind of leverage that has worked.

In between I-5 and I-15 and north of Peñasquitos Canyon the NCFUA is a 12,000 acre area with a range of natural resources and features that rival the diverse environment of San Diego as a whole. Proposition A, an initiative approved by the San Diego voters in 1985, amended the Progress Guide and General Plan of the City to require a majority vote at a citywide election prior to any change in the future urbanizing designation or provisions restricting development in the NCFUA.

If recent meetings and presentations that I've attended are any indication, there is a significant ground swell at the community level to just say "no" to bad planning and bad projects.

At a minimum, the only thing that voters are likely to say "yes" to will be plans that work together throughout the area. One of the minimum requirements will be the missing ramps. These ramps were estimated to cost $30 million three years ago. But even adding no-brainer ramps will not provide an easy answer that will convince voters to give the phase shifts the go-ahead.

Ms. Warden and all those pursuing phase shifts have much more work to do and more funding to deliver before voters sign on. Given the wealth to be created in this area, the minimum the neighbors deserve - and I believe will demand - will be workable designs and sufficient funding for infrastructure that solves problems. Continuing the current path being blazed by Ms. Warden will simply be a continuation of making what is already bad, much, much worse.