SANDAG purchase of SR125 – is it a good deal?
Back in 2005 when the private/public partnership was created to build toll road SR-125, lawmakers and the City of Chula Vista thought they were getting into a win-win deal. The vision was that traffic congestion in East Chula Vista would be alleviated and the city would realize cash flow from the profits of all the cars paying to travel the 10-mile expressway. What they got instead was a boondoggle: SR-125 does not deposit commuters close to any substantial destination, the private company which ran SR-125 is in bankruptcy, and there was never any revenue income due to the lack of traffic on the toll road.
So it seems that the toll road SR-125 advocates were overly optimistic with their projections.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) now sees SR-125 as an opportunity. It has proposed purchasing the freeway from the private partners for $344 million dollars. SANDAG’s intent is to lower the toll cost by half which would hopefully increase the traffic flow on SR-125, thereby reducing the congestion on I-805 and the surrounding arteries. SR-125, once viewed as a win-win public/private partnership has now turned into ‘let’s make a deal.’ But is it a good deal?
To fund the buyout, SANDAG has proposed using TRANSNET money, $247.5 million from the voter approved 1/2% Transportation and Use Tax, taking money that is currently designated for the I-805 South Project between East Palomar Street and the I-805/SR-15 interchange. The project includes the addition of buffer-separated Express Lanes, intermediate access points, HOV direct connectors, in-line transit stations, and Park & Ride locations. Construction on the I-805 South Project was expected to begin in 2013.
SANDAG is betting that with lower toll rates, Eastern Chula Vista drivers will use the SR-125 toll road instead of the I-805. If SANDAG could alleviate congestion on I-805, they would lessen the need to improve it. However, the lingering question remains, SR-125 goes nowhere, unless your destination is Lemon Grove or Spring Valley. SR-125 was originally intended to extend through Poway to connect to SR-56, but Poway voters rejected the plans. As it stands, SR-125 stops at SR-52, just west of Santee.
Our question is whether, once again, policy makers are overly optimistic in assuming that droves of drivers in the South Bay will use SR-125 and pay the toll each way in sufficient quantities as to pay back the public debt and also eliminate congestion on the I-805.
In exchange for the proposed SR-125 purchase, SANDAG plans to eliminate two lanes from the planned expansion of I-805. The money that would have been spent on the lanes, about $192 million, would be used to pay down the cost of South Bay Expressway. A casualty of the toll road purchase would be the jobs lost if there is no additional highway construction. At a time of high unemployment, with the local economy needing a major boost, construction work would be a major boost to the overall region.
These and other concerns can be addressed at a public meeting, hosted by SANDAG, to discuss this purchase. We encourage interested citizens to attend the SANDAG public forum on Dec. 16, from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., in the SANDAG Board Room, 401 B Street, 7th Floor, downtown San Diego. The purchase date is scheduled for Dec. 21, 2011.