Background & History of the Project:

Construction of the Mid-City segment of State Route 15 was a watershed event for the Mid-City community, which had long suffered the impacts of over 35,000 cars per day passing through its neighborhoods on surface streets. The community had been further damaged by CalTrans' practices in acquiring and vacating the future freeway corridor.

Recognizing the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this project, the design of this segment of freeway was intensely negotiated with the community with the goal of making the new freeway both a regional asset and a catalyst for neighborhood renewal. Many design amenities resulted from this process, including:

- construction of the freeway in a narrow, below-grade channel to minimize the physical division of the community;
- creation of a four acre cut-and-cover park over one block of the freeway;
- enhanced pedestrian linkages across the freeway; and
- integration of rapid transit into the median of the freeway, supported by expanded overcrossings to serve as transit plazas at the interchanges of SR-15 at University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard.

These commitments and mitigations were codified in Memoranda of Understanding and Agreement between CalTrans and the City of San Diego and other agencies, most notably in the 1985 through 1993 timeframe. The transit service plans that would fulfill this promise were adopted as part of SANDAG's Mobility 2030 (the 2003 RTP).

Congresswoman Susan Davis, along with the community, celebrate the opening of the I-15.

 

Diagram of existing El Cajon Blvd Transit Station, which was built to serve the future I-15 Bus Rapid Transit.

Immediate Challenge:

SR-15 - CenterLine- Rapid Transit System, a state-of-the-art bus rapid transit (BRT) system to be located in the center median area of the freeway, is at a critical juncture. The new 2007 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) is being prepared for adoption this summer. There are pressures to identify the I-15 corridor as a future HOV corridor (not needed in the Mid-City region before 2030, by CalTrans estimates). Further, SANDAG would like to designate the corridor as a key freight corridor in the Goods Movement Action Plan (GMAP), which will be incorporated into the 2007 RTP. A Project Study Report (PSR) conducted by CalTrans over the course of 2006 made clear that either of these options, if adopted into the 2007 RTP, could prevent the CenterLine Rapid Transit System and Stations from being constructed as promised.

The City of San Diego is the signatory to the 1985 Memorandum of Agreement and the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) These documents include promises to mitigate air and noise pollution impacts on Central Elementary School, divert truck traffic to I-805 to the maximum extent feasible and dedicate the center median area for use of a rapid transit system and stations accessed from the transit plaza's located at University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard overpasses. The City is the appropriate entity to ensure implementation of these agreements and the 2007 RTP is the appropriate place for this commitment to be reaffirmed.

If the Centerline is ever to be built, it will require a firm policy statement by the City Council identifying the Centerline as a priority project. Only with the support of the Mayor and City Council will the City's delegation to SANDAG be able to come to the table with a clear mandate to insist on fulfillment of the promises made to this community over 20 years ago.

The I-15 segment through Mid-City was designed to be wide enough for Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

A centerline station located in Ottawa Canada

Historical Support:

- Rapid transit was part of the original agreements with the community in exchange for acceptance of the project and as mitigation for the construction and continuing impacts to the area as a result of the freeway.

- The original desire for the community was for a light-rail line (LRT) to run in the freeway center median; an alternate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was promised as being more cost effective and capable for earlier implementation.

MTS and City staff at the opening celebration of the I-15

 

INVESTMENTS made and ACTIONS taken based on these promises include:

- The Mid-City Communities Plan was adopted, which identified El Cajon and I-15 as a regional serving hub, and University and I-15 as a local/sub-regional hub.

- The interchange at ECB & I-15 was upzoned to a maximum of 73 dwelling units to the acre - as compared to 35 DUA along the remainder of the Boulevard.

- The commercial zoning along both University and El Cajon was extended deeper into the residential neighborhoods on either side and special transitional zoning created to facilitate denser development along these corridors.

- The City Heights Redevelopment Plan was amended to reflect these changes, including an increase in the extent of the Agency's eminent domain authority to reflect these new transit corridor guidelines.

- The community spent over 3 years in developing specific development guidelines for these interchanges and the 20 square block corridor around the mid City SR-15 corridor (Mid-City Transit Interchanges Project).

- The community supported the development of the Mid-City Transit Gateways, built with over $3 million in federal funds (via SANDAG) and nearly $1 million in matching funds from the City of San Diego and its Redevelopment Agency to access the rapid transit system and in line stations located in the center median.

- The community sought and obtained CCDC funds for development of the Metro Villas affordable housing project in City Heights, under a City Council Finding of Benefit that the affordable housing in City Heights could serve the lower-income employees of down town businesses because of its link, via transit, to the downtown area.

- The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and SANDAG adopted the Mid City Transit Network Plan and expanded service on two commuter express lines using the interim off-ramp stations to get Mid City residents to job centers;

- The community sought and received designation of the Boulevard Marketplace as of one of the City's Smart Growth, Transit Oriented Pilot Villages.