A major obstacle blocking federal funding for the East County extension of the San Diego Trolley was removed Monday, clearing the way for $20.3 million to help stretch the line from Euclid Avenue to the City of El Cajon, officials said.
The chief of the federal agency that oversees transit funding ended a months-long stalemate by agreeing to review an environmental impact statement that must be approved before the federal funding can be sent to San Diego.
In a letter to Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), Ralph L. Stanley, head of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, said the statement could be approved within 90 days. Stanley said this was the “last remaining legal requirement” to be fulfilled before his agency could commit funds to the project.
Randy Broberg, an aide to Lowery, said Stanley’s letter was the most significant step to date in San Diego’s battle to obtain federal funds. No federal money has so far been spent on the trolley’s South Bay and East San Diego legs.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen in writing a go-ahead for the San Diego Trolley,” Broberg said. “Up until now they had hedged, they had said wait, they had said ask for less money. They had purposely sat on it for political and policy reasons, not environmental reasons.”
Broberg said the San Diego money had been held up as part of a broader Reagan Administration strategy to block money for mass transit projects, even those already approved by Congress.
“As recently as two weeks ago, they were still talking about zeroing out three years of trolley appropriations,” Broberg said. “Congress had not been the problem. We had a big problem with the Administration.”
Broberg and Tom Larwin, general manager of the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, said they expected the environmental statement to be approved with little trouble because the trolley will run along the same route as the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway.
Once the $20.3 million controlled by Stanley is approved, an additional $30 million in federal funds, $26 million in state money and $10 million in local dollars will be available for the trolley, Larwin said.
Together, the $86 million would pay to extend the trolley to Marshall and Main streets in El Cajon, a project expected to be completed sometime in 1989.
Larwin said Stanley had told him in March that the environmental impact statement would be processed.
“He had given us verbal assurance,” Larwin said. “But that’s not much good until you get something in writing.”