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SANDAG Reboot Update: Proposed Final Regional Plan

On November 30, SANDAG released its Proposed Final 2021 Regional Plan. The plan is broadly similar to the Draft 2021 Regional Plan, with the biggest changes coming in where SANDAG expects to generate revenues. As with the Draft Plan, the Proposed Final Plan reflects a shift away from highway funding towards transit.

Circulate published a report titled “SANDAG Reboot” earlier this year that summarizes the important elements for what was actually in SANDAG’s initial Draft Plan.

In the short term, both plans implement significant frequency improvements to bus and rail service, and a system of RAPID busses. Frequency improvements and bus rapid transit are two of the most cost-effective ways of increasing transit ridership. Because of revenue structure changes, these improvements may come even sooner in the Proposed Final Plan.

Both Plans also include speculative revenues in the later years of the plan, which may jeopardize SANDAG’s ability to deliver on what it promises.

The Board will vote on December 10 whether to approve that plan.

While circulate was unable to provide the same level of detail as it did to compare the 2015 Plan with the Draft 2021 Plan, we did undertake a comparison of the broad revenue and spending categories contained in the Draft and Proposed Final 2021 Plans. That comparison is available here as an Excel spreadsheet [Excel].

The biggest changes between the Draft Plan and the Proposed Final Plan are in the revenues. The Proposed Final Plan pushes out all road use charges to 2030, rather than 2026, and revises significantly downward the amount of the state road use charge. Where the Draft Plan had predicted $17.2 billion in revenue from a state road use charge, in addition to $17.2 billion from regional road charge, the Proposed Final Plan predicts $5 billion in revenue from a state road use charge and $14.2 billion from a local road use charge. SANDAG staff informed Circulate that the state road use charge was revised downward to reflect only filling the gap between what the gas tax generates, and what it will generate in the future as more drivers switch to electric vehicles.

The Proposed Final Plan makes up for that lost revenue mainly by moving up the first SANDAG ballot measure to the 2022 election, rather than the 2024 election, and adding an additional ballot measure in the 2028 election. Each of those ballot measures would include a half-cent sales tax, with a total estimated revenue of $21.6 billion. The Draft and Proposed Final Plans both include an MTS Ballot measure in the 2024 election. Estimated revenues from the MTS ballot measure were revised down from $7.2 billion to $6.1 billion.

The Proposed Final plan revises upward estimates for matching funds from the state and federal governments, based on moving up the first SANDAG ballot measure and the creation of a second SANDAG ballot measure. These funds are contained within the RMRA and Federal Transit Administration Discretionary categories.

As a result of moving up the ballot measure to the 2022 election, and including bonding against the funds in the SANDAG ballot measures, the Proposed Final Plan predicts $18.6 billion in revenue for the 2021-2025 phase, where the Draft Plan predicted only $12.1 billion for the same phase. The overall revenue prediction increased from $165.3 billion in the Draft Plan to $172.8 billion in the Proposed Final Plan.

Also notable in the revenue changes are that Transnet revenue predictions are revised upward, and FasTrak revenue predictions are revised upward by almost double for the 2036-2050 phase.

Moving ballot measure up and bonding against that new local funding would allow more spending in earlier phases of the plan. This earlier spending may allow SANDAG to deliver transit projects and service sooner. The Proposed Final Plan spends $4.6 billion on transit in the 2021-2025 Phase, where the Draft Plan spent $2.9 billion. The Proposed Final Plan also spends more in the 2026-2035 phase, and then less in the 2036-2050 phase, such that the overall cost is similar.

The Proposed Final Plan revises downwards highway operations and maintenance costs from $13.5 billion to $6.5 billion. SANDAG staff represented to Circulate that this is based on changing estimates obtained by SANDAG from CalTrans. The Proposed Final Plan increases funding for managed lanes and managed lane connectors in the 2021-2025 Phase of the plan, while eliminating funding for highway connectors.

The proposed final plan also includes $8.3 billion in spending on debt service, where the Draft Plan included only $4.9 billion. This is because of bonding against the additional anticipated ballot measure revenue. In addition, the Proposed Final Plan includes slightly increased funding for Supporting Programs and Policies.

In general, the major projects in the plan remain relatively unchanged, though some may be anticipated to come online sooner. The Purple Line, the Airport Connector, the Central Mobility Hub, have identical funding allocated in the Final Plan as in the Draft Plan.

Frequency enhancements to rail projects were not identified in the Draft Plan, but SANDAG shared information with Circulate on anticipated frequency enhancements. That information was shared in the SANDAG Reboot report. Rail frequency enhancements are now included in the Final Plan, and they are identical to those shown in SANDAG Reboot. Rapid and local bus frequency enhancements are very similar as well.

In addition, Regional Bicycle Network maps appear to be identical.