San Diego

SANDAG Chief Wants More Mass Transit, Fewer Highways in San Diego

“I think the era of building highways and freeways is over,” said Hassan Ikhrata, the new executive director of SANDAG

The new executive director of the San Diego region’s primary public planning and transportation group has a vision for local projects: less highways, more public transit.

Hassan Ikhrata, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, sat down with NBC 7 earlier this week to talk about transportation in the city and why he wants to do away with building highways and instead focus on adding mass transit.

“We believe there should be a state of the art transit option that's as convenient if not more convenient than driving,” said Ikhrata.

Ikhrata joined SANDAG in December 2018. He has worked in transportation and urban development his entire career and just three months into his new role he's not afraid to share ideas that some don't agree with.

“I think the era of building highways and freeways is over,” he adds. “Most people say, ‘Well, this is a big idea; we don’t have money to do it,’ but, look, this region deserves and needs a big idea and our team is working to make sure these ideas are real."

The majority of San Diegans rely on their cars to commute. Americans are now spending 70 billion hours a year behind the wheel, an 8 percent increase since 2014, according to the Auto Club of Southern California.

“Well I think it's a good idea in concept, but San Diego is so large,” said North County resident Carrie Winder. “It’s an inconvenience when you have to get off a trolley, to catch a bus, to catch a coaster to get somewhere."

Ikhrata said he wants to change the inconvenience of mass transit and make it a viable option.

To do so, Ikhrata is proposing to stop funding highway projects, which he argues San Diego doesn’t have the funds for to begin with, and instead focus on funding mass transit projects.

“Even if we had the money, I would not recommend that we move with highway-oriented projects but build with transit option fares and then see how we add without expanding and adding concrete, I think it’s doable,” he said.

Ideas for future mass transit in San Diego County include subway proposals from the border, tunnels to Coronado, and double and even triple-tracking the trolley, Coaster and Sprinter lines. The goal is to have these transit lines gather at what's being called “San Diego's Grand Central Station.”

“Grand Central, yes it's a transit hub but it’s also an economic zone,” Ikhrata explained. “We will have housing, retail, entertainment, people will come not just to go on the people mover and get to the airport, but also to live and entertain.”

Some are worried that land and space is an issue.

“People are going to suffer because of it and there’s going to be a lot of adjustments,” said Winder.

Many argue that cost is the biggest obstacle.

“We're looking at transit connecting every part of the county and yes, it's going to be expensive, but it’s more expensive not to do it,” said Ikhrata.

These transit ideas and projects are expected to be presented to San Diegans within two to three years from now.

“I know it’s going to upset a lot of people, but it’s good for San Diego County to have other options,” said Ikhrata. “We’re trying to build for the next generations.”

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