December 17, 2013
By Marco Gonzalez

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation recently filed suit against Caltrans, challenging the validity of the environmental review document for its proposed expansion of Interstate 5. The I-5 North Coast Corridor Project would add four “managed lanes” to a 27-mile stretch of the freeway from San Diego up through Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

Unfortunately, this project promotes a 20th century approach to transportation. San Diego County residents are ready to embrace true alternatives to our inefficient regional transportation that promotes gridlock, air pollution, and economic waste.

Caltrans’ fragmented approach to planning does not serve the best interest of local residents – or our cherished natural environment – in the long run. The fiscally and civilly responsible thing to do is to prioritize investments in transit over widened freeways.

Caltrans’s paltry environmental analysis of the I-5 project follows in the footsteps of San Diego’s own regional transportation planning agency, SANDAG. When SANDAG released its most recent Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) it declined to evaluate the health effects of this freeway-first option, stating that health impacts would be analyzed at the project level. But the North Coast Corridor is one of the projects included in SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan, and Caltrans now argues it does not need to analyze the health effects of the project. San Diegans must simply not allow these agencies to pass the buck in this way.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation, among others, also sued SANDAG over its flawed transportation plan, arguing that it set the region on a course that would increase climate change-inducing emissions – in conflict with state law. The Superior Court agreed that SANDAG had flouted state law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The case is now before a California appellate court.

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Expanding freeways before investing aggressively in transit is irresponsible. San Diego continues to suffer some of the worst air quality in the state. Poor air quality increases regional healthcare costs and indicates air pollutants, including those that directly contribute to climate change, are too high.

It’s not too late for our region to change course. But we must make a serious commitment to invest in transit today, not at some theoretical future moment. Los Angeles is in the process of investing 30 years of transit dollars into creating a robust light rail system within a 10-year span. San Diego County should also eschew wider freeways, which studies show invite more cars onto the roads rather than relieve congestion.

Caltrans should embrace cost-effective investments like double-tracking rail lines and promoting development in city centers that encourages walking, biking, and includes robust transit options.

It’s time for us to say enough is enough. Enough to failed policies that intensify climate change, harm air quality, and reduce quality of life. We can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer.

Marco Gonzalez is a cofounder and Managing Partner of Coast Law Group LLP, where he oversees the firm’s Environment & Land Use practice. He co-represents the Cleveland National Forest Foundation in its case against Caltrans.