Transportation Innovation Awards

Honoring Our Achievements

By Cristina Smith


roviding a transportation system to match the demands of the modern world is stunningly complex. The projects honored with the inaugural Transportation Innovation Awards (TIA), presented last month, rise to meet their separate challenges with a level of creativity an innovation that sets them apart. With the TIA, the San Diego Chapter of Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS) recognizes the achievement of the transportation professionals in our midst who have, through innovation, created transportation projects that are “more than a means to an end.”

    The WTS is the premier interdisciplinary association of transportation professionals in San Diego County, with 126 members representing all sectors of San Diego's transportation community. Their board and membership represent private engineering and design firms large and small, and the public agencies responsible for streets, roads, highways, rail, and mass transit operations and planning. WTS counts as members the highest leadership echelons of these organizations, as well as staff members at all levels.

    Twenty-five years ago, WTS began with the goal of creating opportunities for women to succeed in the transportation industry. Today's WTS provides an environment in which all transportation professionals, women and men, at every stage of their careers, benefit from our educational lunchtime seminars and from the opportunity to meet one another on an equal basis in an informal setting outside of work.

    The introduction of the Transportation Innovation Award represents an important milestone for our chapter. “WTS has grown to become the leading transportation organization in the San Diego region,” according to chapter president and Caltrans/MTDB Liaison, Sandy Johnson. “We thought it was time to shine our light on some of the great transportation projects we have seen.”

    The WTS board identified a group of five highly qualified community leaders to judge the projects. These outstanding professionals brought a broad range of experience in transportation safety, civil engineering, and community design to the process. The judges were Peter Pountney, President of Pountney Consulting Group, Inc., civil engineers and land surveyors; Walter Rask, AIA, AICP, Manager of Architecture and Planning for the Centre City Development Corporation, San Diego's downtown planning and redevelopment agency; Professor Sheila Sarkar, Director of the California Institute for Transportation and Safety in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at San Diego State University; Mark Steele, FAIA, AICP, Principal of MW Steele Group, a firm specializing in architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture and interior design and former City of San Diego Planning Commission Chair; and Monica Zech, former local traffic reporter of 29 years and Public Information and Safety Educator for the El Cajon Fire Department.

    Solicitation of nominations for the new award was done primarily by direct mail of nomination forms to community leaders, public works departments, and transportation professionals region-wide. At the end of the eight-week nominations period, twelve outstanding projects had been nominated representing a diverse range of project types and locations.

    The judges selected three projects that were outstanding on every level and which, because of their diverse nature, could not compete with one another. They also requested that we offer a certificate of merit to a fourth project to which they wished to call special attention.

    Winners were chosen from the categories of: public transit, transportation programs, and road construction. A certificate of merit was awarded to a project in the interregional planning category.

Transit/Mission Valley West light rail line: ahead of its time


    In the public transit category, the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) won for the Mission Valley West Light Rail Line (MVW).

    MVW consists of 6.1 miles of light rail line running from Old Town Transit Center and Rancho Mission Road in Mission Valley. The line connects a variety of land uses, including Qualcomm Stadium, Old Town State Historic Park, four major shopping areas, hotels, recreation, and high density housing. The judges called this project, which began construction 1997, “ahead of its time.” They commended it for being sensitive to the environment in its design, for promoting traffic safety through grade separation, and for promoting infill development and reducing the need for downtown parking.

    MVW has exceeded ridership expectations from the start. According to MTDB Associate Transportation Planner Kathy Donnelly, the line was expected to add around 10,000 new riders in the first year. A month after it opened, average daily ridership was up by 12,000.  By June 1998, average daily ridership was up over 20,000. Ridership varies by month, but MVW increased has increased average daily transit ridership between 12,000 and 23,000 trips.

    One of this project's special contributions comes from increasing the viability of taking transit to major sporting events. Special event ridership has dramatically increased since the introduction of MVW. The pre-MVW highest ridership was below 87,000. Now the top 50 highest ridership days vary from 87,832 to 219,034 (NFL experience: Super Fest on January 24, 1998). None of this would be possible without MVW, according to Kathy.

Transportation Programs/The Juror Transit Pass a winner for courts, jurors, and transit


    In the category of transportation programs, the San Diego Superior Court, San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, North County Transit Development Board, and the Metropolitan Transit Development Board and Metropolitan Transit System Operators all were honored for their collaboration in bringing forth the Juror Transit Pass Program.

    The Juror Transit Pass, which began in 1997, enables any person reporting for jury duty to take public transit at no out-of-pocket cost, through a complex set of behind-the-scenes transactions undertaken by the agencies involved. The program is innovative both in concept and in its execution.

    Each year, more than 700,000 San Diegans receive a summons to report for jury duty. Of the more than 75,000 reporting, a remarkable 50% choose to get downtown using the free transit pass that appears as part of their summons. The award judges felt that this response rate was “outstanding.”

    From the standpoint of the Court, the program is a winner because it has assisted them in fulfilling their obligation to provide sufficient numbers of qualified jurors for the court to function. From the point of view of the transit agencies, it's a winner because it introduces people to the transit system who might never have tried transit without it.

    Says Rex Warburton, Jury Services Manager for the San Diego Superior Court, “Every morning, there is a long line of new people getting their passes that may be introduced to transit for the first time. It's the jurors who serve more than one day, however, who see the greatest benefit of the program. They really like it because they can get into an easy-to-understand pattern of getting to and from downtown without any traffic while getting to know the transit system.

Road Construction/“The road that went the extra mile” in Carlsbad


    While the judges expressly stated that they didn't want to “encourage the construction of more and wider highways,” they called one project “the road that went the extra mile.”

    The City of Carlsbad Public Work Engineering Department wins at TIA for the Cannon Road/Faraday Avenue project. This road construction project stood out to all the judges as an extraordinarily complex project that dealt successfully with an unusual number of environmental issues, all while making a significant contribution to the overall circulation element. Its innovation is primarily in the environmental sensitivity of its design and construction phasing.

    Cannon Road includes two traffic lanes in each direction, a raised and planted median, bike lanes, sidewalks, and street lights on each side. It is located in the coastal zone and crosses both wetland and upland habitat. The city had been trying to build Cannon Road for twenty years. Several funding mechanisms had failed, and the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Act, and listing of various protected flora and fauna over the life of the project both increased costs and delayed some components of the construction.

    Faraday Avenue is a split-grade roadway providing users a park-like atmosphere as it passes through areas designated for open space uses. An industrial collector, Faraday Avenue is a linear roadway constructed on a hillside. It dissects rolling hills and drainage that provide runoff to adjacent downstream wetland habitat in Macario Canyon.

    The judges believe that this project did a number of things the average engineer talks about but does not do. Associate Engineer Sherri Howard explains, “The environmental components of the projects weave through the entire process. We have three lagoons in the city and are very conscious of the need to protect and preserve those resources. During the input process, it is very important to include all stakeholders including the lagoon foundations, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Resource agencies.”

    Native habitat was restored along both Faraday Avenue and Cannon Road. Grading operations were phased and documented successful nesting of the endangered least Bell's vireo and coastal California gnatcatcher occurred during construction on both projects.

    Sherri shared some of the secrets of bringing a project like this to a successful conclusion. “The beauty of working on a project in the City of Carlsbad is the synergy within the city - both within the agency and the community. We have a stable, proactive, and wise City Council and a very interested, informed, and active community. It's not just one person; it's everyone cooperating to achieve the best outcome. We've been fortunate to have a team of consultants and contractors that have put together a project the city can be proud of. I'm fortunate to be coordinating the team effort. With community-wide support, it's easier to step out of standard design to come up with a creative and aesthetic solution.”

Certificate of Merit/Cross Border Transportation Study

Finally, the judges awarded a certificate of merit to a fourth project that stood out to them as a particularly hopeful indication of things to come. In the category of “interregional planning,” the judges honored SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments) for their Cross Border Transportation Study.

    With an estimated combined population of five million, the San Diego-Tijuana region forms the largest “twin-cities” on the United States-Mexico border. This project demonstrates that SANDAG is rising to the reality of the need to coordinate cross-border transportation planning efforts.

    This project involved collecting and updating cross-border travel databases, developing a cross-border travel forecasting model, and developing studies for additional points of entry. This project will assist in transportation infrastructure planning on both sides of the border as officials in the Southern California/Baja California region work together to develop integrated highways, border crossings, trucking and railroad systems.

    SANDAG project manager Elisa Arias explains that the model has already been used to forecast travel demand at the proposed East Otay Mesa-Mesa de Otay II port of entry. SANDAG and IMPlan Tijuana (Tijuana's Municipal Planning Institute) are working on a collaborative modeling project to prepare traffic forecasts for the City's Master Plan update. Coordination efforts are also underway with federal agencies so that locally generated cross-border traffic forecasts are considered in nationwide planning studies.

    This project has won a prior award for technical merit from the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO).

    For more info contact: Cristina Smith,