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  • Rex Graham

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  • Rex Graham

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Trolley Rolls Closer to a Reality on UC San Diego Campus

San Diego Trolley

San Diego Trolley

The planned San Diego Trolley route to UC San Diego recently picked up key federal support that will keep the project on track for construction to begin in 2015 and passenger service to start in 2018.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in September gave the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project a highly favorable “medium high” rating as part of its formal review process. The project has now entered the “preliminary engineering” stage. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) officials said at a meeting Oct. 21 that the FTA’s “medium high” rating is the highest of any project in the country in the preliminary-engineering stage.

The Mid-Coast project will now be included in the FTA’s fiscal-year 2013 funding recommendations to Congress. In the meantime, a supplemental environmental review and other analyses and reviews are proceeding on schedule under the direction of SANDAG.

The11-mile project will extend the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) system’s Blue Line north from the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego to University Towne Centre, through the UC San Diego campus. Half of the roughly $1.6 billion project will be paid for by the FTA, with the other half provided by TransNet, a one-half cent sales tax to fund San Diego County transportation projects.

“The campus is excited about the progress of this project because we think the trolley will be an important transportation ‘game changer’ by providing inexpensive, fast and convenient mass transit to and from the campus—especially during rush hour,” said Gary C. Matthews, vice chancellor for Resource Management and Planning. “The trolley also will significantly lower the campus’ carbon footprint.”

On Oct. 26, SANDAG’s Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project working group, chaired by San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, will review the status of the project. A supplemental environmental impact study and report will be available for public review in summer 2012, and full funding of the project is expected in 2014.

The tracks for the trolley won’t actually use much campus real estate: they will be perched on the concrete piers of an aerial structure, a design requested by campus’ Light Rail Transit Work Group, a committee made up of faculty, staff and student representatives. The work group favored the aerial design because it is quieter than an at-grade track and eliminates the need for street-level gates, bells and traffic-control signals.

Each trolley, with a capacity of 120 riders, will stop every 7.5 minutes at each of the two UC San Diego stops, which will include canopies, benches, information kiosk, ticketing machines, and lighting.

Working closely with the campus’ Light Rail Transit Work Group, the route chosen through the campus was considered the most beneficial to academic operations, commuters and residents of on-campus housing.

The campus work group will continue working with SANDAG on the design of pedestrian and vehicular access to the campus trolley stops at Pepper Canyon on the West Campus and on the East Campus near Preuss School and Health Sciences’ hospitals, clinics and research institutes.

The campus work group will also coordinate with SANDAG to mitigate construction impacts, including traffic control, possible road and intersection relocations, and changes to utility lines and other infrastructure. The work group also will continue to coordinate with the Metropolitan Transit System, the City of San Diego, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and other stakeholders in addition to the FTA and designers and contractors who will develop the project. Notices will be widely distributed to the campus community in advance of construction activities.

At the Oct. 21 meeting of the SANDAG Transportation Committee, SANDAG staff said the project team also is evaluating the feasibility of a trolley stop on Caltrans property adjacent to the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. That potential trolley stop would be immediately south of the UC San Diego campus and within walking distance of the School of Medicine classrooms, labs and offices.

UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox recently traveled on the trolley Green Line with San Diego County Supervisor Roberts to the San Diego State University campus, where strong trolley ridership is easing SDSU’s parking and transportation woes. The Blue Line, which begins near the international border and currently extends north to the Old Town Transit Center, would extend another 11 miles to the north through UC San Diego and terminate at the Westfield UTC Transit Center.

Fox, Matthews and other campus leaders who have collectively managed the expansion of classroom and research buildings on campus as well as the addition of on-campus student housing are eager for the Blue Line to arrive. It will augment a variety of other alternative transportation options on the campus.

“Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has really been committed to the trolley,” Roberts said at the Oct. 21 SANDAG meeting. “She in every sense of the word has been a champion of the project.”

As work on the project advances, the campus’ Light Rail Transit Work Group will continue to provide updates to the campus community on its website and hold meetings to share information as it becomes available.

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