Report: San Diego Trolley Extension Cost Double the Average for U.S. Light Rail

Experts attribute the high cost of the project to local opposition and call on state and federal leaders to give transportation agencies more authority over local jurisdictions.

2 minute read

January 24, 2022, 11:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

San Diego Trolley car

The Port of Authority / San Diego Trolley car

A report from UC Berkeley found that San Diego's Blue Line trolley extension cost double the per-mile average for similar projects, but was completed in half the average time. Joshua Emerson Smith outlines the findings of the study, which also analyzed four other rail projects in the state.

Ethan Elkind, co-author of the report, says the high cost of the San Diego project is indicative of the many challenges faced by rail initiatives in places like California. According to Elkind, the project was "well executed," but remains a "cautionary tale." The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) worked with local stakeholders to reduce opposition and mitigate community concerns, raising the cost of the project by promising new parking spaces in certain areas and elevating the trolley tracks on the UC San Diego campus. 

The report recommends that state and federal leaders "crack down" on local opposition to rail projects, with Elkind arguing that "we need to empower transit leaders to make decisions for the good of the region and not always give in to local demands along the route." But agency leaders like SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata are reluctant to take an aggressive approach or take away local land use authority.

Other California rail projects have shown varied results: while San Francisco's Central Subway project has encountered major delays and cost increases, L.A.'s Purple Line extension is costing 70 percent of the national average. The report calls the state's beleaguered high-speed rail project "a case study in how not to build rail," citing the project's lack of foresight in securing land acquisition before designing routes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022 in San Diego Union-Tribune

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

People on bikes and walking on 606 Bloomingdale Bike Trail on sunny day in Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago Leads Nation in Biking Growth

Cycling as a mode share grew faster in the Windy City over the last five years than in any other major U.S. metropolis.

18 minutes ago - Momentum Magazine

Clpse=up of Uber and Lyft stickers inside a car windshield.

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach Ride Share Compromise

A law awaiting the governor’s signature establishes wage rates for drivers. Ride share companies say if the law passes, they plan to continue service in the state.

1 hour ago - Minnesota House of Representatives

Green and silver CTfastrak bus at a station in Elmwood, Connecticut.

Connecticut Bus System Earns Top Ranking

Hartford’s CTfastrak system wins out over other US bus networks for service quality and connectivity.

2 hours ago - CT Insider

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.