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Environmental groups sue San Diego Association of Governments over $214B Regional Transportation/Sustainable Communities plan; first regional plan under SB 375

Projected population densities under the SANDAG 2050 RTP/SCS. Click to enlarge.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in the San Diego Superior Court against the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), challenging SANDAG’s $214-billion 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (2050 RTP/SCS). According to the groups, SANDAG used a deficient process to develop a plan that will over-invests in freeways at the expense of public transit, increased pollution and exacerbated global climate change.

The San Diego region is the first in California to produce a regional transportation plan with an SCS as required by SB 375, a new state law intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through compact land-use and transportation planning. (Earlier post.) SANDAG approved the plan on 28 Oct after two years of work.

Among the underlying forecast assumptions of the plan are increases in the population of the region by 1,160,435 people; in housing by 379,664 units; and in employment by 501,958 jobs over existing conditions. The 2050 RTP lays out a plan for investing an estimated $213.8 billion (escalated to the year that dollars are expended), including future California High Speed Rail funds. Local funds make up 55% of the total funds, with state and federal funds providing 28% and 17%, respectively. Revenues are phased in by decade.

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2050 transit network. Click to enlarge.   2050 highway network. Click to enlarge.

Projects that are listed in the initial years of the 2050 RTP are the same as those that are either already programmed in the five-year Regional Transportation Improvement Program (RTIP) through FY 2015, or are anticipated to be included in future near-term updates of the RTIP. The RTIP is a multi-billion, five-year capital listing of all major highway, arterial, transit, bikeway, and TransNet Program projects.

According to SANDAG, the largest proportion of the funds will go toward transit, which will receive 36% of the funds in the first 10 years, with 34% going to highway improvements (largely for the addition of high occupancy vehicle lanes to existing freeway corridors), and 21% to local roads and streets. The percentage dedicated to transit will grow each decade, up to 44% from 2021 to 2030, 47% in the third decade, and 57% in the last decade of the plan.

The building blocks of the SCS include:

  • A land use pattern that accommodates the region’s future employment and housing needs, and protects sensitive habitats and resource areas.

  • A transportation network of public transit, managed lanes and highways, local streets, and bikeways and walkways built and maintained with reasonably expected funding.

  • Managing demands on the transportation system (Transportation Demand Management, or TDM) in ways that reduce or eliminate traffic congestion during peak periods of demand.

  • Managing the transportation system (Transportation System Management, or TSM) through measures that maximize the efficiency of the transportation network.

  • Pricing policies and other measures designed to reduce vehicle miles traveled and traffic congestion during peak periods of demand.

In 2008, California accounted for approximately 7% of US greenhouse gas emissions with a total of 473.66 MMTCO2 e); transportation was the sector with the largest percentage of California GHG emissions (37%), followed by electricity generation (25%), and industrial sources (20%).

According to the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the RTP/SCS, the University of San Diego, School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiative Center (EPIC), created GHG inventories for San Diego County in 2010. Existing emissions totaled 14.09 MMTCO2e in 2010 for all on-road transportation in the SANDAG region, not including emissions from rail. Total transportation-related emissions, including rail, were 14.31 MMT CO2e in 2010. Total land use GHGs in San Diego County in 2010 were estimated at 14.53 MMTCO2e.

The analysis in the EIR concluded that regional growth/land use change GHG emissions in 2035 are expected to be greater than in 2010, while transportation-related GHG emissions are expected to be lower than in 2010. The total emissions expected in 2035 for both regional growth/land use change and transportation network improvements would be 30.1 MMTCO2e, accounting for state measures and including construction-related emissions. Compared with the estimated 2010 emissions of 28.85 MMTCO2e, this represents an increase over baseline conditions. Therefore, implementation of the 2050 RTP/SCS would lead to an overall increase in GHG emissions in 2035 compared to 2010 levels and constitutes a significant impact which would require mitigation measures.

In 2050, according to the EIR, land-use and transportation-related GHG emissions in 2050 are expected to be greater than in 2010. The total emissions expected in 2050 would be 33.65 MMTCO2e, accounting for state measures. Therefore, implementation of the 2050 RTP/SCS would lead to an overall increase in GHG emissions compared to baseline levels and constitutes a significant impact requiring mitigation.

The lawsuit. The groups charge that the plan’s heavy reliance on freeways and sprawl drives the regional per capita greenhouse gas emissions will increase over the coming decades.

Throughout the planning process, the groups said, opponents of the plan have urged SANDAG to prioritize transit investments in the urban core and reject extending freeways into the far reaches of the county.



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