Whether they're ready for it or not, San Diego County's 18 municipalities and 135 separate jurisdictions are heading toward greater regional cooperation.

A new commission has been charged with proposing a regional infrastructure approach to the legislature by next August. Created by state Senator Steve Peace, the commission will explore two solutions to the county's transportation woes. One is to create a new super- agency, possibly taking over political control of the county but more likely limited to overseeing transportation and infrastructure. The other would keep intact the seven present transportation agencies but find ways of fostering greater cooperation among them.

The county's infrastructure has been pushed to its limits by population growth and NAFTA-inspired trade. Lindbergh Field, San Diego's single-runway airport, is inadequate to meet present needs, let alone those of 1 million new residents expected over the next 20 years.

The area faces an "economic Armageddon" if it doesn't retool its infrastructure, warns San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear, who will chair the commission beginning in the new year. Wear says he favors merging at least the area's transit and land-use boards. The notion of creating a more cohesive and powerful local government entity, with its presumed efficiencies of scale, has drawn backing from a strange- bedfellows mix of liberals and some conservative business groups.

San Diego County voters approved a ballot initiative in 1993 to create a commission charged with promoting greater government efficiency, but little came of its recommendations. There have already been some 20 studies over the past 40 years to build a new airport, but Peace intends his commission to have a greater impact. He plans to turn its recommendations into legislation and have voters give their approval to the plan in 2002.