REGION — The San Diego Association of Governments board of directors approved the removal of a controversial road-user charge during its Sept. 23 meeting.
The charge is a per-mile fee allocated to all motorists and has been a lightning rod since SANDAG staff introduced the plan two years ago as part of its Regional Transportation Plan.
However, the removal of the charge is temporary and may be included in the plan’s 2025 update.
Also, the California Air Resources Board approved the plan weeks ago, the last step before it can be implemented, and the board was happy with the inclusion of the charge.
However, critics noted that SANDAG’s plan is the only one in the state with a local road charge, as the state has been studying (and is expected to implement) a road-user charge.
It is unknown how CARB will respond to the charge being temporarily eliminated from the plan.
“These plans take several years to adopt…that is why although we’re removing the road usage charge from the 2021 plan, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other road usage charges included in the 2025 plan,” Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said. “A lot of the people on the board, myself included, are simply trying to find a transportation plan that works for San Diego County.”
SANDAG’s plan is estimated to cost $172 billion, although the finances have not been recalculated to include inflation, current market projections and other financial components.
The plan will mostly spend on transit upgrades in San Diego, just two in North County — double-tracking the Sprinter line from Oceanside to Escondido and double-tracking and trenching the railroad tracks in Carlsbad Village.
Known as the “5 Big Moves,” the plan also calls for flexible fleets, multi-modal transportation hubs, managed lanes (or toll roads) for highways and other measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 19%.
SANDAG also expects mass adoption of electric vehicles, but CARB said under Senate Bill 357, emission reductions from EVs cannot be used in SANDAG’s future calculations, requiring the agency and its member municipalities to explore other alternatives to cut emissions and push residents to transit.
In North County, mayors Matt Hall, of Carlsbad, Rebecca Jones, of San Marcos, and Julie Ritter, of Vista, have long railed against the plan. The transit upgrades in the plan, they have said, will not cover North County and restricting the movement of people will have a negative impact, especially with low-income residents.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria acknowledged the road-user charge was always included in the plan, saying previous media reports and others stating the charge had been removed were wrong.
Gloria, along with Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear had long supported the mission until December 2021, when they, along with National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, flipped their position.