A San Diego county planning organization has developed a long-term plan to pay for road improvements, new rail lines and bus routes while giving cities control of billions of dollars to spend on local transit projects of their choosing. The new blueprint created by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is a blend of two previous planning documents.

The new hybrid plan would more evenly distribute revenue collected from a proposed half-cent sales tax increase between local government and cities. The sales tax increase is anticipated to collect $18 billion in added revenue over four decades. Previous plans proposed giving around 40 percent of that revenue to local governments, but nothing to cities. The new plan allocates approximately 20 percent of the funds (roughly $3.6 billion) to cities, allowing municipalities a way to pay for community neighborhood infrastructure needs such as sidewalks, water quality systems and shoreline protection.

The remaining sales tax revenue — combined with funds that SANDAG hopes to receive from the state and federal governments — would pay for $204 billion worth of regional transit, environmental protection, highway improvements and other infrastructure projects over the next four decades.

SANDAG is honing the hybrid plan and expects to have a second draft completed by the end of the month. It will likely give cities even more funding while cutting spending on some regional transit projects, said Gary Gallegos, SANDAG’s executive director. He added that the plans could place more emphasis on cities using the allocated funds for transit or environmental projects.

Advocacy groups are also weighing-in on the plan proposals. The Centers on Policy Initiatives, a labor-friendly organization that focuses on regional economic issues, says the plan needs to have labor agreements that guarantee San Diegans get the jobs. And the Environmental Health Coalition is pushing for mass transit systems to play a larger role in the plan. Others have emphasized highway projects; “Our first priority is the 78 widening, and the 15 and the 5. They’re at critical stages,” SANDAG board member and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said.

If approved by SANDAG’s board, the organization will begin preparing the plan and sales tax increase as a ballot measure to appear in November’s general election. It will require support from two-thirds of voters to pass.

Source: San Diego Tribune