San Diego's Mid-Coast Trolley project on pace for 2021 opening

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This elevated portion of San Diego's Mid-Coast Trolley extension will carry the line over Interstate 5 and through La Jolla, Calif. The ballpark at lower left is the home of UC San Diego baseball; two stations on the extension will serve UCSD.
San Diego Association of Governments
A map of the Mid-Coast Trolley project.
San Diego Association of Governments

SAN DIEGO — John Haggerty, division director of rail for the San Diego Association of Governments, says the Mid-Coast Trolley is “the largest public works project in the region.” He’s in charge of that project, an 11-mile extension of the existing Blue Line, now in its third year of construction.

“This is the biggest extension we've ever done,” Haggerty tells Trains News Wire. “It’s double the length and more than four times the cost of any other project we've built in the region.”

At a price tag of $2.17 billion, the Mid-Coast Trolley will add nine new stations. It will extend the Blue Line, which begins in San Ysidro at the U.S.-Mexico border, to La Jolla. A one-seat ride from end to end will take 70 minutes.

Haggerty says construction is now 70% complete, on schedule to open by the end of 2021. “I'm anticipating we're going to finish within that budget,” he adds.

Blue Line trains currently terminate at the America Plaza station, across from Amtrak’s Santa Fe Depot in San Diego. When the extension is put into service, trains will continue through an existing wye onto tracks used by the Green Line, to the Old Town Transit Center. SANDAG recently completed signal and traction power upgrades along this segment.

At Old Town, where the Green Line heads east to Santee, the new Mid-Coast extension continues north, following the Interstate 5 corridor.

The new line runs mostly at grade from Old Town to Nobel Drive in La Jolla, except for a flyover along Rose Canyon which carries it over tracks serving Amtrak, Coaster commuter trains and BNSF Railway. From Nobel Drive to its endpoint, the line is elevated, crossing I-5 at two locations.

Haggerty says travel times will be competitive with the freeway, especially during San Diego’s notorious rush hours.

In La Jolla, the line will serve the University of California San Diego and University Town Center.

With nearly 40,000 students, all of whom get a universal transit pass, the UCSD campus is ripe for direct trolley access. Two stations will serve the campus. Haggerty says that the university is building new student housing and a new engineering education building adjacent to the future Pepper Canyon station.

A Coaster commuter train passes under a flyover used to clear tracks which also carry Amtrak and BNSF Railway traffic.

San Diego Association of Governments

University Town Center, home to Qualcomm and other technology firms, is one of San Diego’s major job centers. It gets two stations, including the end of the line at Westfield UTC, which will connect with new residential and office towers.

“We're trying to get more transit-oriented development all up and down the line at these transit nodes,” Haggerty says.

Looking ahead, SANDAG is planning for active transit (electric bikes and scooters) at stations, and autonomous, electric circulator vehicles, all to make it easier for riders to get to and from their final destinations. While some of these technologies are well out in the future, Haggerty says they are preparing now by installing underground power lines and conduits during construction.

Responsibility for building the new line sits with Mid-Coast Transit Constructors MCTC, a joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck, Herzog, and Skanska. The consortium was involved with SANDAG during the design phase, and earned the right to manage and build the project at a guaranteed maximum price.

Haggerty credits the contractor with suggesting the use of precast concrete girders for the elevated guideway along Genesee Avenue, which minimized roadway disruption by eliminating more time-consuming, on-site construction.

San Diego is pivoting toward more mass transit as part of its “5 Big Moves” initiative, introduced earlier this year by SANDAG executive director Hasan Ikhrata. The plan revolves around integrated transportation corridors, which include roadways, transit, active transportation and advanced technologies.

While the trolley extension preceded the broader transportation plan, “Mid-Coast is one of the proving grounds for what we can do,” says Haggerty.

Ridership on the trolley system, which began service in 1981, is expected to grow by 20,000 a day when the Mid-Coast Trolley opens.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) ordered 45 new S700 vehicles from Siemens in 2016, which are in the process of delivery, and another 25 S700 units this year, in part to supplement its fleet for the anticipated opening of the new extension. Siemens, which manufactures the S700 in its Sacramento, California facility, has been the sole supplier of light rail vehicles to MTS since the trolley’s beginning.

The Mid-Coast Trolley is not the only big project SANDAG is working on. It’s been double-tracking the Pacific Surfliner corridor from the Orange County line to downtown San Diego, with 70% of the 60-mile segment in San Diego County complete.

Haggerty, who has been working on San Diego rail transit projects for 30 years, says, “At the end of the day, we're going to have a system that will probably be around a hundred years from now.”

— Updated Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m. to correct spelling of name of John Haggerty.

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