Multi-million dollar Downtown bus lot proposal called "huge waste" of taxpayer money

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jun 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-21 21:36:33-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars could soon be poured into a parking lot for San Diego County buses.

It's a project that some people are calling an enormous waste of public funds. 10News Investigative Reporter Jennifer Kastner got an exclusive television interview with the local mayor who's taking a stand against the proposal.

“This is a huge waste of money and that's the bottom line,” said Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey. He shared with 10News the details about a little-known bus lot proposal that comes at a massive cost.

“The original price tag was about $15 million. Today the price had ballooned up to more than $60 million,” he added. In fact, a slide from a November 2017 Board of Directors meeting shows an estimated cost of up to $85 million. It can be viewed here on page 128.

Bailey sits on the board of SANDAG, San Diego County's regional planning group. SANDAG is looking to buy a privately-owned block in Downtown San Diego.

The block is bounded by A Street, Union Street, B Street and State Street. The land would be turned into a facility where MTS drivers can park their buses and use restrooms before starting their next routes. Currently, drivers idle their buses along streets wherever they can find spots. They also use portable toilets around the city.

Bailey told us he respects all the board members and their efforts to find a solution with MTS. However, he believes there are far better solutions than spending millions on a parking facility, like paying local businesses to allow drivers to use their restrooms or leasing parking places from existing lots.

He’s even suggested painting curbs to be used exclusively for MTS buses. “Several cans of red paint are a lot less expensive than $65 million,” he told us.

“Painting more curbs red is going to take away on-street parking,” said San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward, who represents Downtown. He told 10News he’s in favor of building the bus lot, even at its estimated cost. “We know that those numbers will only continue to increase the longer we delay and don't act on building such a facility,” he explained.

Ward agrees with a proposal option that also includes building SANDAG office-spaces and putting up new apartments on the bus lot.

“Then we have the opportunity for affordable housing. That's a big issue for me [and] for the region,” he added. “[This transportation project] takes away from projects like roads and highways that can actually move people from point A to point B,” Bailey explained.

He also told us that the project may soon become obsolete with the invention of autonomous buses that won’t require the use of such a bus lot. A SANDAG spokesperson wrote to 10News explaining that building SANDAG offices on the lot could save money being spent on renting offices, reducing overall costs of the project.

SANDAG staff is currently working on cost estimates for five project options, the most basic of which would only create a bus lot. A more elaborate option would include a bus lot with public offices and affordable housing.  

The SANDAG board votes on the proposal this Friday. It is not a final vote. 

A more detailed explanation of the project is included below from part of an email sent to 10News by a SANDAG spokesperson: “SANDAG has been working with MTS for years to find an appropriate location for a bus stopover in Downtown San Diego. Numerous bus routes terminate in Downtown – and that number is growing with the expansion of the region’s Rapid network. 

Currently, more than 400 buses park on the curbs in western Downtown each day between routes. The drivers use portable toilets placed on the sidewalks near where the buses layover. The number of buses projected to park in western Downtown between routes is anticipated to increase to more than 700 over the next several decades with implementation of the Regional Plan.

 At the same time, available curb space is expected to decrease with the continued growth of Downtown. As a result, Downtown would benefit from a long-term solution that takes these buses and portable toilets off the street.   

The facility will allow bus drivers to park off the street, use the restroom, deal with minor issues with the vehicle, and catch up on their schedules. (Passengers will not use the facility.) There are other bus stopovers in operation in the region – this additional facility is needed to accommodate the many routes that end in Downtown.

The main objective of this project is to create this bus stopover, provide facilities for MTS, get Port O’ Potties off the street, and free up parking Downtown. However, SANDAG also has identified another potential opportunity to more efficiently invest taxpayer funds and better serve the community plan of Downtown by creating an office building or multi-purpose development over the bus stopover.

This has the potential to save funds on rent for SANDAG offices and reduce the cost of the stopover project. Various options are being explored for the Board’s consideration.”