Chula Vista’s Mayor wants to make the toll road in her city a free road.
The South Bay Expressway opened in 2007 and was purchased in 2011 by the San Diego Association of Governments.
“We have an obligation to pay off that debt. Right now, that obligation is to end in 2042,” said SANDAG’s Director of Regional Planning Coleen Clementson.
2042 is 20 more years for motorists who use the 10-mile stretch of State Route 125 between SR-54 and SR-905. However, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas wants the toll road to be a free road by 2027.
“I have no doubt that I have a lot of obstacles to climb before we get this done,” said Mayor Salas.
She believes charging people to drive through her city hurts her city.
“That really impedes people wanting to go to the shopping mall [Otay Ranch Town Center]. It actually has been a reason why some companies have told us that they don’t want to locate to the City of Chula Vista,” Salas said.
She also argued the toll road is not fair to residents who shouldn’t be forced to pay to drive to school or work.
“We understand that for low-income folks it might be a lot more expensive to pay that toll. So, how do we look at maybe offsetting that?” agreed Clementson.
The Mayor also argued a free SR-125 would decrease vehicle miles for thousands of drivers and reduce dangerous greenhouse emissions from vehicles idling in traffic.
Salas wants SANDAG to find a way to pay off the $172 million it owes for the South Bay Expressway by 2027. On Tuesday, Salas will ask the Chula Vista City Council to support a resolution requesting the toll road become a state-owned freeway by 2027. The SANDAG board is expected to discuss it Jan. 28.
“It’s something that SANDAG has been dragging their feet on,” the mayor said.
“We understand where the Mayor of Chula Vista is coming from,” said Clementson.
Clementson said the tolls they currently collect from roughly 54,000 drivers a day go right back into maintaining the expressway and paying down the debt. She reiterated several times that debt is expected to be paid by 2042.
“If we can pay it off sooner, we would be more than happy to be able to do that,” she said.
Salas argued it can happen sooner with creative financing and a little help from the state of California, which would eventually take over maintenance of the freeway.
“It’s not impossible to get this done,” she said.