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Major Campus Project Near Stadium Signals Key Development Struggle Across the US West - San Diego Officials Wrestle With Traffic Concerns, Mirroring Other Cities

September 27, 2019

Plans for San Diego State University's new western campus include office, retail, apartment, hotel and civic elements, along with a new stadium. (SDSU, Carrier Johnson + Culture)

 

San Diego State University officials are searching for ways to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to major redevelopments in city centers across the U.S. West: increased car traffic.

 

The university is planning a much-needed new western campus on 130 acres at the site of the 52-year-old stadium that formerly housed the National Football League’s Chargers team in what is considered the geographic center of San Diego, a neighborhood called Mission Valley. The area is already known as one of the city's most traffic-congested and nonwalkable neighborhoods, with many deeming its busiest streets dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

 

But the project, which calls for a new $250 million college stadium as well as new offices, classrooms, apartments, stores and restaurants, hotels and a long-sought community river park, is expected to generate an additional 45,174 car trips each weekday when it is fully built out in 2037, according to a draft environmental impact report. The campus is expected to be completed in several phases after the university and city agree on a price for the land, a negotiation for which is in progress.

 

"This is the largest developable piece of city-owned land remaining in San Diego, and it’s very valuable, so it’s important that the city gets what it’s worth," said Gary London, senior principal with real estate consulting firm London Moeder Advisors in San Diego, noting the city is expected to bear many of the long-term public-service costs that will come with increased development in the already busy enclave.

 

The need for traffic mitigation, as SDSU outgrows its current main campus amid rising enrollment and looks to expand, reflects a larger development-related issue facing many growing cities in the Western United States, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

 

Unlike many major East Coast and Midwest hubs, most of the nation’s western cities came of age well after the rise of cars and the interstate highway system. As a result, the adoption of mass-transit such as subways is often lukewarm and their transportation lifelines are steeped in car culture, which has enabled development to sprawl into the suburbs for the past several decades, boosting commute times in the process.

 

Building large projects in city centers that draw in more visitors or residents, who largely travel by car, inevitably increases traffic in many locations that are already plagued by congestion. Cities in the U.S. West accounted for eight of the top 25 most traffic-clogged cities in the country, according to a 2017 ranking by traffic analytics firm INRIX.

 

As development grows, traffic problems have already spurred cities and developers to push for solutions. Some are looking to more self-contained mixed-use developments with the potential to reduce car trips by putting work, commercial and housing elements on the same property. Other cities require developers to widen roads or add bike or walking infrastructure. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are among cities considering the idea of congestion-based pricing, essentially putting a toll on the use of some roadways during peak rush hours, a concept that’s already set to take effect next year in New York City.

 

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