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San Diego Debuts Largest Rail Project in Region’s History

The nine-station light rail line will connect some of the region’s most popular areas with hopes of providing greater access to jobs, health care and educational opportunities. The 11-mile trolley line cost nearly $2.2 billion.

(TNS) — Trains began running early Sunday morning on a long-awaited trolley line connecting Old Town to La Jolla that regional leaders are touting as a monumental project for greater San Diego, Calif.

The most expensive infrastructure project in the region's history at nearly $2.2 billion, the new 11-mile line brings light rail for the first time to La Jolla, UC San Diego, Mission Bay Park, Pacific Beach and Clairemont.

But perhaps more importantly, every stop on the city's other trolley routes gets a big boost by becoming connected to those popular destinations and others like Westfield UTC and the VA Medical Center.

The nine-station line also fixes glaring flaws in local transit by connecting the trolley system to the region's largest university — the University of California San Diego — and No. 1 employment center — University City and the Golden Triangle.

"It is creating new jobs, new opportunities, new access to health care and more educational opportunities for so many residents of the San Diego- Tijuana region," said National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis.

Speaking to thousands gathered Sunday afternoon on UCSD's Warren Field to celebrate the new line, Sotelo-Solis said that 20 years ago as a UC San Diego student she spent two hours a day getting to campus to pursue her dream of a college degree.

"What took me two hours from National City — bus line, trolley line and walking up Gilman Drive — now takes less than 40 minutes," she said. "Now those dreams will be even easier to meet for the next generation of workers and students."

University Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said the new rail line will help the university shed its image as an isolated campus most San Diegans never see, transforming it into the "public" university it was always meant to be.

"It's not a game-changer, it's a dream come true," he said during Sunday's celebration.

Khosla said the trolley will also infuse UCSD into more of the region's neighborhoods by allowing students and faculty easier access to them.

"It extends our campus to all the areas adjacent to all the stops across the trolley line," he said.

Large rail bridges recently built over parts of campus to accommodate the new trolley line are also a boost.

"It adds a little pizzazz to the campus and makes it more exciting," Khosla said.

Hundreds of residents took advantage Sunday of free rides all day on the new line and the rest of the trolley system. Local leaders say they hope the promotional effort let people see how the newly expanded trolley system could fit their lives.

"I think for me it's a one-time thing because it's the first day of the train," said University City resident Sam Wu. "It's convenient, but for my work I am close to where I live."

Wu said he probably wouldn't use the new line again until his parents visit and want to go to dinner in downtown or Little Italy, places that are easier to get to by trolley than by car.

La Jolla resident Keith Wahl was much more enthusiastic.

"Right now I'm working from home, but I see a lot of utility in this for getting around," he said. "I'm a favorable advocate of it. I think it will bring a lot of people up to the university and it's great for the VA patients."

Wahl and his wife began their journey around 8 a.m. Sunday morning from the new line's final stop at UTC mall, riding it down to Old Town so they could eat nearby at popular breakfast spot Perry's. Then they headed back up, he said.

The new line took 20 years of planning and five years of construction, which included overcoming many hurdles like bridges and tunnels and overpasses that had to be created in challenging spots.

"I'm amazed at the engineering and how they pulled it off," Wahl said.

Mira Mesa resident Lester Dronick said he was excited to ride the new line, suggesting local planners should begin focusing immediately on an extension to the Miramar area.

"I like mass transit and I use it a lot, especially as a senior," said Dronick, 71.

University City couple Matt and Heather Eisenberg, who did a round trip to Old Town Sunday morning, said they're not sure what they think of the new trolley.

"I think there's pros and cons." said Matt. "Are they going to hire increased security for all the people who will now be making it up into those neighborhoods more easily?"

Heather said she's heard skeptics say that people won't embrace the new trolley, but she said millennials typically have a more positive attitude about mass transit than older people.

El Cajon resident Joe Cortez rode the trolley Sunday because he's curious to see how it changes commuting patterns, especially for UC San Diego students.

Cortez drives a bus near the campus and said he thinks many students will shift to the trolley because it's faster.

"I've been watching the progress of the trains, so I've been looking forward to seeing this," he said.

An estimated 60 percent of UCSD students and faculty already reach campus by some mode of transportation other than driving a vehicle, university officials say.

UCSD students receive free passes for all public transit as part of the student fees they pay, making local officials optimistic students will ride the new trolley in large numbers.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who leads the county planning agency that coordinated construction of the new line, said Sunday was a day for celebrating and also looking forward.

"It's not that frequently that you open a $2 billion, nine-stop, 11-mile transit line," she said.

She stressed that planning for the new line began in 1986, making it crucial that local residents let their elected officials know today what kinds of projects they'd like to see built in the next 40 years.

For details on the new line, visit KeepSanDiegoMoving.com/MidCoast.

Local officials have chosen to use the wordy moniker "Mid-Coast Extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley" as the official name of the new line. Many community leaders refer to it simply as the " La Jolla line" or the " UCSD line."

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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