Port Balks at Helping Fund Trolley

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Unified Port District should pay "a substantial portion" of the cost of building a trolley line along San Diego Bay to Lindbergh Field, City Councilman Dick Murphy, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, said Thursday.

Murphy, in a "State of the Trolley" message, pointed out that federal and state funding sources for mass-transit projects are drying up and "we must look to local funding if the Bayside-Airport Line is to be built during the 1980s."

Port officials expressed surprise and dismay at Murphy's suggestion that the district share the estimated $40-million to $60-million cost of the bayside line.

Port Director Don Nay said bluntly, "We don't have the money. We've taken on a big job--getting the convention center up and running. We don't have unlimited resources."

Murphy contends that the bayside line would link the municipal convention center to be built on Navy Field with the bayside hotels to be built around it; Seaport Village; the B Street Pier, which is being prepared as a cruise ship berth, and Lindbergh Field.

"All of these major facilities are on Port District land, and it seems to be logical that the Port District, with its ongoing surplus, should play a major role in constructing this part of the trolley."

Reserving Judgment

Port Commissioner Louis Wolfsheimer reserved judgment on Murphy's proposal "until we can all sit down--the port, its tenants and the MTDB--and discuss how we can help each other in this matter. We should not just reject the proposal out of hand."

Port Commissioner Ben Cohen said of the Murphy proposal: "I think that it is a most unreasonable suggestion. We have already obligated ourselves to the tune of $125 million to build the convention center. And we have other major projects ongoing, the B Street pier for instance, which could run into millions."

Another port official, who asked not to be identified, questioned whether the trolley line "actually makes sense or not." He explained that "a tourist or conventioneer who is arriving at the airport is not likely to pick up his bags and take a trolley to his hotel. He's much more likely to spend $3.50 and take a taxi."

Rick Thorpe, MTDB director of engineering and construction, said that "ballpark estimates" for the line's construction are $10 million to $15 million for the segment from 12th and Imperial (connection with the South Line) to the Santa Fe Depot at Kettner Boulevard and Broadway, on which existing railroad right-of-way could be used. From the depot north to Lindbergh Field, when streets and private properties would have to be used for the trolley line, estimates range from $30 million to $45 million.

Murphy said he had discussed the proposal with "a couple of (port) commissioners" and reported that "they found the idea interesting."

'Loop' Discussed

Transit board directors have discussed incorporating the bayside line as part of a downtown trolley "loop" which would connect the bayside with the south and east trolley lines to form part of a circular route through the center of the city. The loop would connect with future northern extensions of the transit system to Mission Valley and North County.

Murphy said that if legal problems arise, "we should use the full resources of all our jurisdictions" to convince the state Legislature to pass corrective legislation.

But MTDB general counsel Jack Limber said that there "appears to be no problem" in use of Port District funds on a project which benefits the district's holdings, even if the trolley line is built partly on land outside the port district property.

Murphy also proposed that the MTDB set as 1985 objectives:

- Reduction of the trolley fare evasion rate, which has surpassed 1% of the riders and "tarnishes the San Diego image."

- Redoubling of efforts to obtain federal funding for 12.5 miles of the East Line between Euclid Avenue in Southeast San Diego and El Cajon.

- Adoption of a route for the future north line, which eventually will extend to Oceanside.

- Completion of the consolidation of MTDB and San Diego Transit Corp. so that a coordinated bus and trolley transit system can be designed and operated more efficiently. The consolidation is scheduled for July 1.

Murphy said that trolley ridership in 1984 was up 20% over 1983 figures. The increase in ridership and increases in fares combined to produce an unprecedented 85% fare-box recovery rate during the past six months. The fare-box recovery rate means that passengers paid 85% of the cost of operating the trolley system.

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