Stockton officials head to DC to ask for highway money

Next month, city leaders will join other San Joaquin County officials in Washington, DC on their annual lobbying trip, known as One Voice, in hopes of securing federal funding for various projects in Stockton and throughout the county. The San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) claims that over $100 million has been appropriated from these trips since 2001 for everything from well replacements to river dredging. Any federal dollars would be a boon to Stockton, which has been snubbed for many programs in recent years, most notably President Obama’s Promise Zones. So what are city officials hoping to get money for in 2014?

Highway and street widening, mostly.

Is widening I-5 worth the cost?

City and county officials are looking to Washington, DC to fund the design of widening I-5 between Hammer Lane and Eight Mile Road, among other things

This year, the Stockton officials will be searching for funds for three specific projects: $20 million for completion of the Miner Avenue Streetscape Plan; $20 million for widening Lower Sac Road and improving its Eight Mile Road intersection, and; $7 million to complete the designs for widening I-5 from Hammer Lane to Eight Mile Road and new off/on ramps at Otto Drive.

While each of these projects involves roads, the one that jumps out is the I-5 widening. SCL has previously reported on the lack of economic benefits from highway widening, but Stockton officials are set to ask for millions to make I-5 even bigger. To be sure, $7 million is not much considering the huge price tags for highway projects of this nature. But remember, the $7 million request is just to finish designing these projects. The final cost will ultimately be in the hundreds of millions.

It would be nice to see city leaders use this trip for more immediate needs. Stockton will be fine without another lane on I-5, while there are numerous other issues that could benefit greatly from even small infusions of cash. These include restoring maintenance to the city’s ailing trees, addressing blight in the downtown gateway area just south of the crosstown freeway, updating and implementing the city’s outdated bike master plan, and cleaning up brownfield sites in and around downtown, to name a few. Securing funds for these types of issues would yield far higher benefits than the design of an extra interstate lane.

While I can see the value of a new on-ramp at Otto Drive (drivers won’t have to travel as far to hop on the interstate, saving time and gas, cutting back on emissions, and so on), we know that expanding interstates brings little economic value, especially considering that any slight decreases in congestion will be negated within a few years due to induced demand. Moreover, the city will more than likely update the General Plan in the near future to cut down on building north of Eight Mile Road, so increasing highway capacity past Hammer Lane is probably not necessary.

The same stretch of Miner Avenue as envisioned in the Miner Avenue Streetscape Master Plan

City officials will also seek federal funding for the Miner Avenue Streetscape plan

Some of the requested funding is definitely needed, such as the $20 million being sought for the Miner Avenue Streetscape Plan (the same amount was requested last year, to no avail). Unlike highway construction’s seemingly never ending flow of cash in the Central Valley, funding for projects such as the Miner Ave plan has been difficult to come by. And while the price tag for Miner Ave may seem steep, street scaping projects such as this are proven to provide tangible economic benefits to their communities. A revitalized Miner Ave will have a great impact on the overall vitality of downtown, while a new lane in each direction on I-5 north of Hammer Lane won’t do much more than to shave a couple minutes off the drive to Walmart.

The beneficiaries of the One Voice trips are not always road/highway projects; these trips have often provided funding in some much needed areas. The Altamont Corridor Express, San Joaquin RTD and even the Miracle Mile have been appropriated federal dollars in the past as a result of this yearly excursion, according to SJCOG. But, in the end, the One Voice trip is less about digging for federal funding and more about where our region’s priorities lay at this moment. Should the city be asking for funding for an interstate highway that has already benefited from millions spent on construction?


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Categories: Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

13 Comments on “Stockton officials head to DC to ask for highway money”

  1. Jon Seisa
    March 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    David, you hit the nail on the head. The I-5 widening agenda with valuable federal funding needs to be shelved in favor of more immediate or more logical concerns that will reap more positive economic outcomes and benefits for Stockton.

    The possible federal dollars need to be shifted to something more visionary that would induce vibrancy and economic vitality in Stockton’s urban core district, primarily a “Stockton Light-Rail Mass Transit Plan” designed and developed, instead, and they can start by strategically integrating Phase-I into the median of the Miner Avenue Corridor streetscaping plan from El Dorado Avenue to Airport Way, and expand the route down Airport Way to the airport terminal and up El Dorado to Pacific Avenue through the Miracle Mile and to UOP.

    “Do Plans Matter?
    The Effects of Light Rail Plans on Land Values in Station Areas”:


    Also, they really need to get funds to eliminate all the Central Stockton one-way streets and convert them to two-way traffic, because research has clearly demonstrated that one-way routes exasperates and limits business opportunities due to lack of visibility, increases carbon emissions because commuters spend more time driving around in confusing circles, debilitating convenient and easy access to merchants and other establishments. Honestly, this is a no-brainer. Then obviously more businesses would relocate to these hindered and disabled vicinities.

    “The Case Against One-Way Streets”:

    “Analytical Capacity Comparison of One-Way and Two-Way Signalized Street Networks”:

    Summary: “Two Way Street Networks: More Efficient than Previously Thought” by Vikash V. Gayah

  2. David A. Garcia
    March 12, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks, Jon. You may have seen this already, but I wrote a piece on one-way streets regarding Downtown Stockton about a year ago.

    • Jon Seisa
      March 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Yes! I remember. It’s definitely worth another read. Thanks so much David! You’re so right-on and awesome! I hope they’re listening to you. I guess all we can do is put it out there and hope for the best.

      But really, the one-way street issue needs to be considered one of the top priorities in the city’s agenda. Sacramento has already converted most of their one-way streets to two-way traffic and are now installing 4,000 Smart Parking Meters—–while Stockton perpetually snoozes in “Rip Van Winkle Yesteryear”.

      Sacramento’s… “Two-Way Conversion Project”:

      There’s more info on the Sacramento City site:

  3. March 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    Nice article. I happen to agree freeway construction is never the best solution to traffic jams. It will be nice to have a HOV system in place throughout the county, as it might encourage people to carpool and be a potential expressway for buses. Let’s face it, the I-5 was neglected for years in Stockton (what a bumpy ride down the freeway!). Eight Mile Road/Lower Sac expansion funding is a smart idea but do these plans also include options for bike lanes expansion or other transit systems? Most likely they do not. Car’s seem to take priority in Stockton.

    I personally don’t think the City of Stockton is quite ready for light rail, at least not for another 10years or so. I do believe planning for future light rail/streetcar as Jon suggested might be wise. However, investing in a widespread network of Bus Rapid Transit systems with modern/sleek stations would be a better solution to needs existing now. Dedicated BRT system lanes built in the network could also be used for future conversion to an electrified light-rail/hybrid vehicle down the road. This is the best affordable option for a city of 300,000 residents that is emerging from bankruptcy and looking to turn a new leaf.

    The thing is Stockton, though a medium-large city is surrounded by farm and is still confused weather it desires dense walkable neighborhoods or want’s to continue farming housing colonies on the outskirts of the city. For light rail to work local cities would have to be included and benefit from a linked rail line. If neighboring cities were somewhat closer or clustered nearer Stockton, I’d say light rail would have a greater chance at success if the central city expanded to each of these “satellite” towns creating a larger efficient network. I’m just not sure the current state of growth patterns suggest light rail is a viable option.

    Of course what do I know? It’s been years since I’ve taken Urban Planning courses here in Southern California and I am not practicing in the field. What I DO know is that the number of people using America’s public transit systems today are at the highest levels in over 50+ years. I think the advancements in sleek design, rising transportation (fuel) costs, and added environmental benefits are all part of a growing success story that is inter-ciy transit systems. But can Stockton support light rail or better, can Stockton afford light rail? Maybe BRT is that stepping stone to having more options while more quickly getting residents in and around the city..

    Public Transit Resurgence

    BRT Transit Systems a Solution

    Light Rail vs Bus Rapid Transit

    • Jon Seisa
      March 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

      Hi Anthony…

      Here’s a great blog site: “LIGHT RAIL NOW” – with some great data and ideas.

      I really think Stockton needs to plan now for the future (a decade will flash by in a blink of an eye) and an urban light-rail transit system really needs to ultimately be apart of the city’s makeup and infrastructure (of course as you suggested in tandem with BRT as most cities have done) due to its ultimate positive affects to boast property values, improve neighborhoods and re-energize the local economy. If for instance in one regard a light-rail route were established from Central Stockton down the Airport Way Corridor past the county fairgrounds and to the airport terminal with the additive completion of Airport Way’s new streetscaping to compliment it, more revitalization along this corridor would be subsequently generated and help create an economic and lifestyle renaissance for South Stockton.

      This will also temper and impede criminal activity in the area:

      “Study: Crime drops at light rail stations”…

      “While controlling for overall crime trends in the city utilizing two control transit corridors, our analyses indicate that the announcement of rail transit actually leads to a decrease in property crimes. Once the stations open, the crime decrease is maintained, and does not return to preannouncement levels. This dispels rail transit opponents’ notion that light rail breeds crime. In fact, we offer counter evidence that suggests light rail may actually impede crime.”


      Light-rail transit would be a WIN-WIN opportunity for Stockton.

    • David A. Garcia
      March 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

      Stockton DOES have a BRT system, though not on the level I think you are imagining. No dedicated lanes, but most other elements are there. And it seems like the lines have been a hit, with SJRTD expanding weekend service and adding larger buses. Though I wish they would have been more creative with the names, like the Pacific Line or Blue line or something other than a number, like all the other buses have.

      BRT is the best option for now, the trick will be creating infill around the stops. That is the only way people will actually use their cars less is if they are in easy walking distance of a BRT line that goes to somewhere significant.

      However, BRT is not the same catalyst for TOD that lightrail and street car lines are. Perhaps in the future a streetcar focused on the center of the city may make sense.

  4. Kristine Williams
    March 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Well, according to the Climate Action Plan, consultants and the city believe that even maintaining the current level of service offered by RTD over the next few decades will be a major accomplishment in itself, let alone attempting to expand, due to a lack of financing.

  5. March 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Think smaller (budget) but Dream Big!

    I don’t disagree that light rail would be a “nice” addition to transit options in Stockton. I actually think it would only add to the City’s momentum in ridership and popularity in public transit. Still, I really don’t see Stockton spending millions on a light rail system, especially when BRT has become more and more recognized -like light rail systems- to be a proven catalyst for encouraging development and increasing pedestrian traffic around stations. Stockton will continue to grow and hopefully flourish, but this doesn’t mean the city should fall back into it’s irresponsible cash spending habits.

    One of the issues of making a solid argument for BRT vs light rail, is that BRT systems are relatively new in America and are not built up to par with systems such as those in Asia and Europe (also see Curitiba, Brazil…the mother of all BRT systems). But as older BRT systems are studied, it seems evidence is slowly growing to reveal the economic benefits of a BRT system are especially promising and quite impressive. BRT seems to be effectively encouraging new development and raising property values just like light rail. With Stockton’s young BRT “system” showing growing popularity and in the midst of an economic and financial recovery, bus-rapid transit is a no-brainer in my opinion.

    And no offense, but last time I flew out of Stockton Metro Airport, there wasn’t much going on at the airport and I doubt a light rail line would encourage another airline to land there. A great transit system along with careful strategic urban planning would also work to create new or improved “nodes” throughout the system that offered more than a bench and shelter. Think encased modular glass stations vs “bus shelters”, that comfortably held people waiting for new sleek, clean, and affordable bus lines. A striking modular design could be produced in mass and strategically placed near major transfer stations, business districts/corridors, dense neighborhoods, the airport, etc.

    Because BRT cost’s but a fraction of light rail, these (iconic) stations and networks could be carried out throughout the entire county. The easily recognizable stations will be quite an important aspect of a good BRT system. It might be as simple as “tricking” the rider into thinking he or she is riding perhaps a more “tasteful” or “classier” or “cleaner” or more “modern” transit system than simply riding a bus. Come on. Who doesn’t like all the bells and whistles and sparkle of a new car?

    Transportation money can be more wisely spent on a larger modernized transit system and light rail may very well sabotage funding for ongoing transit system improvements. A really good transit system can exist without the expense of light rail, it’s pretty clear. It’s no question that BRT systems around the world and here in America are only expanding and improving service. Hopefully both BRT and light rail can both exist in Stockton, but it would be a shame to bet so much money on a dream that light rail will bring Southwest Airlines and a neighborhood Whole Foods store to the city.

    “…economic impact of streetcars remains largely unknown”

  6. Jon Seisa
    March 14, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Well, with all due respect, the thinking here appears to be in the now. I would challenge all to go beyond this. True, today, there is not much happening at SJC Metropolitan Airport, but in a mere 14 years that will be drastically altered, even according to the SJC’s own population projections in their “SJC Regional Bluprint: A Year 2050 Transportation Land Use Environmental Vision” the county’s population will escalate to nearly 2 million people (precisely 1.7 million). A light-rail mass transit system is usually considered for metro population areas of over 500,000 in populace. So what my main point is… is to plan now for then, the future, not to see what is present today and not plan for what’s on the horizon and be caught with your trousers down when suddenly 2050 is here and nearly 2 million people are crammed within the SJC borderline with only the less time efficient BRT buses to use. In 25 minutes I can take the Blue Line Light-Rail from Long Beach to the Downtown LA Grand Central Station. By auto, depending on gridlock, and from my location in East LB it is between 1 hour to 1-1/2 hour. By bus with all the countless bus transfers required and the waiting at each transfer location between buses arriving and departing it is much, much longer, like 3+ hours. Thus, one can clearly see the light-rail system is imperative for SJC’s future population of 1.7 million people.

    • Jon Seisa
      March 14, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      CORRECTION: Apologies, I meant to say in “36 year”, not “14 years” (2050-2014=36). The year 20″14″ was stuck in my head when I wrote this.

  7. March 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    I hear you Jon. I understand your main point: planning for future public transportation needs now is imperative. You are 100% correct that Stockton/SJC will need to plan for this “projected” growth. This is precisely why most cities have planning departments to begin with. Cities also have a duty to spend funds responsibly and of looking at the bigger picture while adopting a starting point that is feasible. Just as quickly as Stockton will grow in the next decade or so, same goes for advances in improved transportation methods including BRT (the Marine Highway at the Port of Stockton came into mind).

    My point was simply that perhaps light rail will work great in Stockton at some point, but the city should really consider other options it can build faster and cheaper now. I mentioned American BRT systems that are not on par with Europe/Asia/Latin America. Remember now, BRT is not your typical city bus pushing along 7th Street in East Long Beach heading west toward Pine Avenue. The system I’m speaking of has not only dedicated lanes (like your light rail) and sleek sations, but many portions of theses rapid-bus systems are off the main roads almost entirely. These high-standard systems are typically receiving gold ratings, by the BRT Standard rating system (Stockton would I’m guessing be given a bronze rating if rated at all).

    Just a thought. The reason your able to get from downtown LB to downtown LA is mostly because light rail in on a dedicated line for much of that particular stretch within the system correct? This again is the type of BRT system I propose will be as efficient or close to it, but more importantly….once again; it will be a fraction of the cost to build vs light rail.

    Imagine a future like this Jon:
    How great would it be to have a modern BRT system with dedicated lanes/roads and beautiful stations with intriguing names (Magnolia Design District, Waters Edge, Miracle Mile/City Square, Artist’s District, Mall-town [sherwood merges with weberstown], Eight Mile Technology Corridor). As zero emissions sleek and comfortable buses crisscross Stockton. Money that has been earmarked for a long planned Wheels-to-Rail fund project, would then take aging BRT lines and add electric lines overhead and rails for the new ; stretching from Central Lodi, through downtown Stockton, and curving around into a BART system connector in Central Tracy.

    • Jon Seisa
      March 14, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

      Very good points well taken, Anthony… I like your future vision scenario, too. If the new BRT approach is feasible and more cost effective I see no reason why not to pursue this route first, as well. I like how the right-of-way on the signal lights are activated to allow the BRTs top mobile priority, and how the loading/unloading platforms are on the same level as entry into the bus vehicles, like light-rail. I think it’s Cleveland that has adopted a BRT system down Euclid Street, a formerly depressed corridor, and just like the positive affects produced by light-rail transit this area is currently experiencing great construction redevelopment, rejuvenation, economic reinvestment and a resurgence in activity. So whatever works, and as you cited this direction is more immediately practical as a city begins maturing into a metropolis. The Stockton transit authority will at the very least have to have this type of RT upgrade by 2025-30 (in 11 to 16 years) when proper Stockton’s population will mushroom from 425,067 to 473,386 people.

      But getting back to David’s main point… I agree, the I-5 $20 million federal funding can be best spent on something more practical for now that will garner better future results, like converting the downtown one-ways to two-way traffic or the BRT as you have proposed, or something for future vision, like pre-map out the major routes of future thoroughfares BEFORE urbanization takes hold so the thoroughfares are not a convoluted and tangled after-thought of roads to nowhere plugged in at the last minute, as is the traditional practice in Stockton/SJC. Unless they plan to convert the central median of the I-5 for mass transit. It just seems so-called city ‘planning commissions’ only plan when the problems arrive, rather than pre-plan to avoid the problems.

  8. March 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    SORRY….last paragraph was not edited before posting. This makes a little more sense, lol.


    Imagine a future like this Jon:

    A modern BRT system is introduced with dedicated lanes/roads and beautiful stations with intriguing names (Magnolia Design District, Waters Edge, Miracle Mile/City Square, Artist’s District, Mall-town [sherwood merges with weberstown], Eight Mile Technology Corridor). As zero emissions sleek and comfortable buses crisscross Stockton, urban centers are combined with dense housing, shopping, and entertainment with BRT stations centrally located. Funds have since been earmarked for a long planned Wheels-to-Rail fund project which would convert the most popular or most central BRT lines into a new light rail system. Electric lines and rails for the new light rail would be erected and rail cars would travel from Central Lodi, through downtown Stockton, and curving around into a newly constructed BART connector station in Central Tracy.

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