Contrary to popular belief, our government does do things. And it does things besides telling people not to smoke, drink too much or go overboard with salt.
The government still builds things.
Public projects are going on throughout San Diego County, and others are on the drawing boards.
Some are massive, such as the North Coast Corridor Program, which is expected to cost $6.5 billion and take nearly a quarter-century to complete. With that money, we could build three Chargers stadiums and have some money left over for a craft beer or two.
Some projects are smaller, such as the bikeway being built along State Route 15 that will connect San Diego’s mid-city area with Mission Valley. The bikeway will cost $14 million but may very well be priceless to bike riders who will be protected from traffic by a concrete barrier.
Some projects are long overdue, such as the rebuilding of the crumbling seawall in Mission Beach.
Our City sought to identify the most significant public projects, the ones that will help grow our region’s economy and improve our lives. Not all are universally supported. What some people say is an improvement — such as a transportation project — others argue could cause more environmental harm by inducing greater car use.
Yes, government does seem to move slowly these days. Think about this: It took only two years to build the Coronado Bridge, with construction starting in 1967 and ending in 1969. However, the idea was first floated in 1926. The Navy didn’t want the bridge, fearing that if it collapsed, it could trap ships in the harbor.
So maybe progress isn’t as slow as we think, particularly given the many bureaucratic hoops that must be jumped through today. Government, as this list will show, indeed has the shovel out.
North Coast Corridor Program
Contractors: Flatiron-Skanska-Stacy and Witbeck
Ever drive I-5? Ever get stuck in traffic?
Right, two stupid questions.
The North Coast Corridor Program is the region’s most ambitious transportation plan. Not only will it widen Interstate 5 from La Jolla to Oceanside but it will also improve the rail corridor and upgrade as many as 30 freeway overpasses.
(We noted the price tag in the opening. We hope you’ve recovered from seeing it.)
The widening will allow for the addition of express lanes, which will be open to buses and drivers who carpool. For a fee, a single driver will be able to use the lanes.
Work on the first phase, which will cost $700 million, begins this summer and will take four years. It will include construction of an express lane in each direction, as well as double-tracking key parts of the rail line. This will allow trains to run freely in both directions, increasing frequency. Sound-barrier walls will also be built.
Not all of these projects are being welcomed with open arms, and this is one of them. It faces a lawsuit from the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), which argues that the project will exacerbate climate change.
“Caltrans [California Department of Transportation] is stuck in a 1950s mentality, where building more and bigger freeways is seen as the solution to congestion,” said CNFF President Jack Shu.
But backers say the improvements are necessary, given the amount of traffic I-5 endures. The stretch between Oceanside and La Jolla sees 700,000 vehicle trips a day, and that number will increase with population growth.
A portion of the funding for this project comes from the regional TransNet half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) administers. State and federal money is also being used.
San Ysidro Land Port of Entry Expansion
Phase 1A – Atkinson Construction and Clark Construction Group
Phase 1B & 1C – Hensel Phelps Construction Co.
Phase 1D – Halbert Construction Co.
Phase 1E - Hensel Phelps
Phase 2 - Hensel Phelps
Phase 3 – Atkinson and Clark
Ever go to Tijuana? Ever get stuck in traffic at the border coming back?
Right, two more stupid questions.
Why, it’s positively amazing that there would be delays at the Western Hemisphere’s busiest border crossing, no? Daily, 50,000 northbound vehicles are processed.
This project, at a cost of $735 million, is expected to alleviate some of those problems. It’s being done in three phases, with completion expected by 2019.
Work on the first phase is nearing completion. That includes PedWest and the Virginia Avenue Transit Center. PedWest is the largest expansion of the port’s pedestrian access since the port was built in the early 1970s. It will include 10 northbound lanes and two reversible ones.
The transit center will accommodate buses, cabs and cars, so people can be picked up and dropped off with ease. It will offer access to the San Diego trolley and mass transit buses, as well.
PedWest and the transit center are expected to be open this summer.
The other phases will bring a slew of improvements as well, including 38 additional vehicle inspection booths. When done, the port will have 62 northbound processing lanes.
Much of the funding comes from the federal government.
This is not the only project aimed at improving the border. A third port of entry — Otay Mesa East — is also under construction. It is expected to take pressure off the Otay Mesa crossing, which is currently the region’s only commercial border crossing.
The wait times have been costly to both economies. The economic output loss is estimated to be in the $7 billion range.
The new crossing will charge a toll, which will provide revenue for its operation. The opening is planned for 2017.
Contractors: Mid-Coast Transit Constructors, a joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck Inc., Skanska, and Herzog Contracting Corp.
Ever want to take a trolley to La Jolla instead of fighting that wretched I-5 traffic? (OK, no more dumb questions … We’re, um, moving on.)
Construction has begun on the Mid-Coast Trolley, which will go from Old Town to the Westfield UTC mall. Service should begin in 2021. It’s going to cost $1.7 billion — just shy of what a football stadium and convention center annex runs these days.
This line will include stops at the VA Medical Center and UC San Diego, both heavily used institutions.
University City has grown to the point that it takes several hours to move four blocks during rush hour (we exaggerate, but only by a bit) so it’s hoped that the trolley will attract commuters.
This is an extension of the trolley’s Blue Line, which goes from Old Town to Downtown to San Ysidro. It will connect University City with San Diego’s urban core.
The funding comes from the federal government and TransNet.
South Bay Rapid
Contractor: Pulice Construction (for initial segment)
This is another project that will bring a transit option to a region where none exists. The 21-mile route will go from Otay Mesa through eastern Chula Vista to Downtown.
The South Bay Rapid transit system is engineered to do what its name implies: move fast — at least faster than a traditional bus line.
This line will start at the border crossing at Otay Mesa, go north on state Route 125, then north on I-805 and west on state Route 94 into Downtown.
When traveling on the 805, it will take advantage of the new carpool lanes, allowing for a more, well, rapid commute. It will include 11 stations.
The $113 million project is expected to begin offering service in 2018. Ground was broken for the first segment in February.
Other rapid transit efforts have seen mixed results. Mid-City Rapid, for instance, was criticized for not significantly speeding commutes. However, that project was hampered when businesses along El Cajon Boulevard protested against having a dedicated lane for buses.
South Bay Rapid is another TransNet-funded project.
State Route 15 Commuter Bikeway
Contractor: Coffman Specialties Inc.
Let’s be frank: Most bike lanes in San Diego are lame. They are narrow strips of roadway with the bike riders separated from bustling car traffic by a fading strip of paint. Yes, comforting.
But get ready to hop on your 20-speed. A new commuter bikeway is being built in San Diego’s mid-city. It will extend from Adams Avenue in Kensington, along northbound state Route 15, to Camino del Rio South in Mission Valley.
It will be 12 feet wide and separated from the freeway shoulder by a concrete barrier. It will even include places for a quick rest and spots where passing bikers can easily maneuver past.
Ground was broken in March, and the bikeway is expected to open in mid-2017. The $14.5 million cost is funded by state and federal money and TransNet.
Carlsbad Water Recycling Facility
Contractor: CDM Constructors Inc
Big shock: We need new water supplies. That’s because we live in a region that gets hardly any rain and has to import about 80 percent of the precious resource.
And, to compound matters, we are in a record drought.
Carlsbad is in the process of expanding its Water Recycling Facility, which is a move in the right direction. Using $30 million in federal loans, it’s nearly doubling the plant’s output. It got a pretty sweet deal on the loans, what with the interest rate being just 1 percent. It’s getting another $7 million from other sources.
Once complete, the new plant will meet about one-third of the city’s water needs. The recycled water will be used for irrigation and industrial purposes.
Pure Water San Diego
Back in the dark ages, opponents of purifying wastewater called the program, “toilet-to-tap.”
Thankfully, the mind-set has changed.
Now, more San Diegans support the concept than oppose it, understanding that innovative technology should be embraced, not ridiculed.
Especially when it comes to water.
San Diego will be spending $2.85 billion to create an expansive system that purifies recycled water into drinking water. Currently, most of the wastewater we use is treated and them dumped into the ocean. Only about 8 percent is recycled.
The Pure Water system will be able to provide as much as one-third of the city’s water supply by 2035 and reduce the amount we send into the ocean by half. Test after test has shown the purified water to be perfectly safe.
Construction begins in 2019. Water rate hikes will fund the project. The city says the system will be more cost efficient because we won’t have to import as much water — which keeps rising in price — in the future.
San Diego’s Utilities Undergrounding Program
Overhead utility wires are loved by birds — and that’s about it. They’re ugly. They’re held up by splintering wooden poles. They sag. When a storm hits and the wires sway in the harsh winds, we worry that one will fall and thrash about wildly, spewing sparks.
Or cost us our cable connection for the night.
It’s just too bad that San Diego’s Utilities Undergrounding Program moves along at a snail’s pace. Annually, it undergrounds about 15 miles of overhead utility lines.
It’ll only take half a century to complete the job.
However, we have a lot of overhead wires to take care of. About 1,000 miles of them. Hence, the lengthy process.
The cost is about $54 million annually, with the money coming from a California Public Utilities Commission surcharge on our electricity bills.
Mission Beach Seawall
This was kind of an odd thing to let go south: the Mission Beach Seawall. After all, Mission Bay is a tourist hot spot. Talk about a great lasting impression: a ragged, crumbling seawall. Hard not to miss.
However, the city of San Diego recently completed a project to restore the seawall to glory. It was finished in time for Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the summer season.
The seawall, located along Ocean Front Walk near Belmont Park, was built in the 1920s. Time took its toll on the iconic wall. Chunks of it were falling off.
The project cost $5.5 million — not including sunscreen for construction workers. The money came from the city and a $700,000 state grant.
San Diego State South Campus Plaza
Design-Builder: Sundt Construction
San Diego State University has more than a basketball program to brag about.
It’s building the ambitious South Campus Plaza, which combines student housing with retail space. (If any retailer sells beer, it will make a killing. Oh, we tease SDSU.)
The complex will also feature faculty offices, study spaces, community kitchens and multipurpose rooms. (Great for beer pong! Oh, we tease some more, SDSU.)
SDSU notes research showing that students who live on campus have higher GPAs and graduate sooner. However, SDSU has had little room to grow, given its congested neighborhood setting. The project is being built on campus property, south of the SDSU transit center.
This project — costing $143 million — is being built with system-wide revenue bonds, but that money will be paid back during the next 30 years, using revenue generated by the retail, housing and parking components. So no state funds are actually being used.
San Diego Symphony Concert Shell
This proposed addition to San Diego’s waterfront will make beautiful music.
It would be a permanent band shell at Embarcadero Marina Park South, where the San Diego Symphony plays its Summer Pops concert series. Currently, the symphony uses a temporary facility — a stage and bleachers — at the site for its popular concerts.
This project might need an asterisk, though. Technically, it’s not a public project because the money is being raised by the symphony. It’s projected to cost about $25 million.
However, the addition will be on public land, and it could be used for other events, since the concert series only takes place in the summer.
The San Diego Unified Port District, which manages the land, said it’s open to allowing more uses if the project is realized.