Route 78 is slated to get new express lanes under the latest plan. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron announced Friday that she has filed legislation intended to keep the county’s transportation planning agency from diverting funding from planned road projects, especially in north and east county, without voter approval.

Assembly Bill 1398 would require the San Diego Association of Governments to hold at least four public meetings and get at least two-thirds’ approval from voters in a special election if the agency sought to make changes to funding for projects promised in the 2004 voter-approved extension of Transnet, a half-cent transit tax that funds local infrastructure projects.

Waldron, a Republican from Escondido, essentially introduced the bill this week through a process known as “gut and amend,” which allows a legislator to re-purpose an already- introduced bill that has gained little traction.

In Waldron’s case, AB 1398 was known as the Government Modernization Act of 2019 when she first introduced it in February and would have created a working group to streamline the operation of the state government.

“Unfortunately, SANDAG cannot be trusted to look out for people in all parts of our diverse county,” Waldron said. “Our community deserves confidence that their tax money is being used appropriately and that SANDAG is keeping its promises to voters. No agency should be able to operate in the dark.”

Waldron’s grievance against SANDAG stems from the agency’s announcement earlier this year that it would seek to shift its planning priorities to focus on the expansion of the county’s public transit network.

The 5 Big Moves plan, pushed by SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, would overhaul how goods and people move throughout the county. It would also serve as a reworking of the agency’s 2019-2050 regional plan, which it had been drafting since 2017 and would guide local transportation infrastructure development through 2050.

Last week, the agency announced a tentative spending blueprint of proposed projects consistent with the new regional plan’s focus on transit, including a high-speed rail corridor from Oceanside to Escondido, the addition of express lanes on state Route 78 and funding to double the frequency of the North County Transit District’s Coaster train.

Since the new plan’s unveiling earlier this year, elected officials from north and east county have railed against it for potentially scrapping improvements to certain roads and highways like state routes 52 and 78, which were promised in the 40-year TransNet extension in 2004. SANDAG is scheduled to vote to approve the spending plan later this month.

Although the legislature won’t consider AB 1398 until next year due to the legislative year ending Friday, a spokesman for Waldron’s office said she wanted to get the language of the bill on the books before the Senate and Assembly adjourned for the year.

Waldron was not able to introduce a clean bill as the state’s deadline for new legislation passed in February. Once the legislature reconvenes in January, it will be able to take up AB 1398 without the need for it to be introduced again, according to Waldron’s office.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.