03.12.2024 | News Release

SANDAG Awarded Federal and State Funds to Transform Underserved Communities Divided by Infrastructure

New Grants to Address Inequity, Air Quality, Transit Connectivity, Housing, Jobs, Green Spaces in National City and San Diego 

On Tuesday, state leaders California Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin and Caltrans Director Tony Tavares joined SANDAG, Caltrans District 11, and community leaders in National City to award funds for the Reconnecting Communities: Highways to Boulevards Grant initiative. 

This new state pilot program aims to reconnect three communities in the state divided by transportation infrastructure. SANDAG’s proposal to reconnect Southeastern San Diego and National City was among the three recipients.

“Transportation at its best is a uniter, connecting people and communities with convenient and safe access to jobs, family, and services,” said California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin. “Transportation at its worst is a barrier, dividing communities, increasing harms and cutting off access to opportunity. We must strive to always unite and never divide, and today represents an important step in righting the wrongs of the past by putting people and communities first.”

With this influx of funds, SANDAG will work collaboratively with partners Caltrans District 11, the cities of San Diego and National City, and community-based partners Urban Collaborative Project, Groundwork San Diego, and Mundo Gardens to develop, plan, design, and ultimately build projects that address inequity, connect to transit, housing, jobs, green space, and other community-based solutions. 

“I’m thrilled to announce game-changing investments to help revitalize our transportation infrastructure and connect our communities,” said SANDAG and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas. “As someone who has prioritized breaking down barriers and creating real economic opportunities for underinvested communities, these grants will foster more accessible, equitable change to our region, giving more people a chance to thrive.”

SANDAG’s proposal addresses the historical harm caused by transportation barriers that have long separated the region’s communities and limited mobility, access, and economic opportunity. The program aims to restore community connectivity, improve travel options, and provide opportunities for community-led solutions related to housing and transportation.

“As Chair of the Select Committee on Reconnecting Communities, I am committed to developing new programs that assist California communities that have been divided and broken by the creation of the freeway system,” said Assemblymember David Alvarez. “The Reconnecting Communities: Highways to Boulevards Pilot Program is a prime example of an innovative initiative that can help restore community connectivity and improve health and equity outcomes for historically underserved communities.”

“These collaborations will be unlike any in Caltrans history and empower a new generation of community-driven transportation decisions,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said. “Caltrans will work hand-in-hand with community-based partners and cities on solutions to reconnect neighborhoods that have been split by highway projects and help heal past harms.”

The Greater Southeastern San Diego and National City region is set to undergo significant planning and investment initiatives to establish a vibrant green corridor. This initiative will involve repurposing land for community enrichment, creating green spaces to combat pollution, nurturing public plazas, promoting transit-oriented development, and enhancing connections along Chollas Creek.

"It feels like a new day. It was only generation ago that National City and Southeastern San Diego were at odds about the proposed expansion of the freeway we stand under today,” said National City Councilmember Jose Rodriguez. "Today we stand together to reinvest back into our communities. Thank you to Governor Newsom, state officials, SANDAG, and Caltrans for recognizing the importance of reconnecting communities."

“I’m thrilled to see our region secure state funding that will help us reconnect our Southeastern San Diego communities with other neighborhoods, as well as expand access to jobs and educational and recreational opportunities,” said City of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “I thank the Governor and Legislature for their leadership in approving this funding, and I’m looking forward to working with the community to reactivate this corridor with bicycle and pedestrian connections, transit enhancements, parks and much-needed housing.”

Historically, transportation infrastructure like highways and rail have divided low-income communities and communities of color, preventing residents from easy access to social and economic spaces. This funding provides residents with avenues to reclaim some of that space, foster connections, and grow community-led solutions.

“Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek is pleased to be a part of the Caltrans Reconnecting Communities initiative to bring community-driven transportation, environmental, and climate justice to our Chollas Creek communities,” said Executive Director of Groundwork San Diego Leslie Reynolds. “These Communities of Concern have long suffered from the impacts of historic redlining, underinvestment, and outdated infrastructure. This funding will empower residents to plan, prioritize, and ultimately secure the resources needed to eliminate transportation barriers, reduce pollution and climate impacts, and advance their dreams for community connectivity and healthy, thriving watershed.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, planning for new freeways led to significant disruption in the region. Neighborhoods saw harsh economic impacts, loss of generational wealth, displacement, and vast demolitions to accommodate six- and eight-lane freeways, even for those that never came to fruition. In Southeastern San Diego, near the border of National City, authorities were planning an east-west connection for the I-5 and I-805. The community was able to halt the construction of State Route 252 (currently the 43rd Street on-off ramps of Interstate 805) and has been advocating to repurpose land to be an asset, rather than a barrier, for people living in the area.

The grant, awarded today under Caltrans’ Reconnecting Communities: Highways to Boulevard program, was first proposed in the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure. It confronts the legacy of transportation barriers, which have stifled mobility, access, and economic growth for decades. 

In addition to the state’s grant, it was also announced that $13 million was awarded to the San Diego region through the federal Reconnecting Communities Pilot and Neighborhood Access and Equity programs to advance community-centered transportation connection projects, prioritizing projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. 

SANDAG, Caltrans, and the Port of San Diego received $11 million for the Harbor Drive 2.0 Port Access Improvements project to improve efficiency, safety, and air quality around the Working Waterfront area. The proposed improvements include enhancing access, improving safety, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from truck idling, ultimately aiming to improve the economic competitiveness of industries in the Working Waterfront.

Additionally, SANDAG received $2 million for the Barrio Logan Freeway Lid Parks project. This initiative will plan two new parks covering Interstate 5 in Barrio Logan. This project will complete feasibility, planning, and early design work for two freeway lids identified in local planning documents. The new freeway lid parks will increase community cohesion, provide new access options, and safeguard the environmentally burdened community from harmful particulate emissions. This funding will supplement the $1.3 million SANDAG recently received thanks to federal funding secured by Congressman Juan Vargas. 

SANDAG’s commitment to equity underscores its dedication to serving all communities in the San Diego region, particularly those historically underserved. With this new funding, underserved neighborhoods and vulnerable communities can reclaim vital spaces previously dominated by rail and highway infrastructure.