One of the few communities in San Diego County with room and plans in place to expand in the midst of a regional housing crisis is now faced with the increase in traffic that will soon follow.
Santee has seen a 33 percent increase in home values and purchase prices in the last three years. More homes mean more business and jobs but locals fear it also means more traffic especially along State Route 52 and Mast Boulevard.
So, on Wednesday, members of the community met to discuss potential problems and funding for future improvement projects.
One project calls for expanding the highway from two to three lanes in both directions between Interstate 805 and State Route 125. The project could be started any time between now and 2035 if the city of Santee and SANDAG come up with funding.
To help bankroll the project, Santee is enlisting the help of a lobbying firm to help gather at least $50 million.
Santee Mayor John Minto said in a perfect world they'd come up with a billion dollars to fund the widening project and another project envisioned between now and 2050.
That plan calls for an eastbound-westbound interchangable lane between Interstate 805 and Interstate 15, two interchangeable lanes between I-15 and SR-125, an MTS Rapid Route connecting El Cajon, Santee and UTC, and a bike passage from Mission Gorge Road to Glen Vista Way.
“The SR-52 Coalition is a bi-partisan, multi-interest, economic and community-minded volunteer effort focused on educating local, state and federal lawmakers and officials around funding needed to improve SR-52,” the coalition said in a press release.
Santee resident Logan Snider lives in one of the many small communities off SR-52.
He said traffic has been bad since he moved into his home on Medina Drive, “but it's going to get worse.”
It’s gotten so bad Snider refuses to brave the SR-52 rush hour anymore – Snider's 12-minute drive can often take more than an hour.
“If I do have to, I use surface streets as much as I can,” he laughed. “One time I couldn't even get onto Mast Boulevard because it was blocked through the green light by cars waiting to get onto the freeway.”
Mast Boulevard is the main road leading to SR-52, but it has three new housing developments, a growing population and a high school slowing its traffic flow.
Neighbors like Snider wonder why Mast Boulevard has not been expanded ahead of the new developments and why there is a stretch of SR-52 that's only two lanes instead of four.
Those questions were echoed at Wednesday’s meeting.
Fellow SR-52 commuter Ron Townsend likened his daily trek from East County to Pacific Beach to a war zone.
An ideal situation for Townsend would be an elevated toll road because "if it's pay for play, I'll pay," but he knows several overpasses along the highway make that a farfetched concept.
As for the widening, Townsend, just like SANDAG and Santee, is worried about the financial undertaking.
“You can expand all you want but there's bridges and bridges are so expensive," he said. "I’m not an engineer but I think if it were flat ground, yea, push it out, but going over bridges is a whole lot more money.”