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San Diego’s Mid-Coast Trolley Extension Nears Completion

Apartment Development Likely to Increase Along the Morena Corridor

The Mid-Coast Extension to the San Diego Trolley line, when completed, will link downtown to University Town Center via the Blue Line, with an estimated ridership of 20,000 new daily riders. (San Diego Metropolitan Transit System)

By Joshua Ohl

CoStar Analytics

September 3, 2021, | 5:13 A.M.

Local leaders and members of the public were invited to ride a portion of the Mid-Coast Extension of San Diego’s Blue Line Trolley this past week.

The 11-mile extension stretches from downtown San Diego to the University of California San Diego area, with a terminus located at the Westfield UTC mall. The extension includes nine new trolley stations with stops along the Morena corridor near Mission Bay and east of Pacific Beach, UC San Diego and the VA Medical Center. The full Blue Line will run from the U.S.-Mexico border to University Town Center. Riders will be able to transfer to the Blue Line at the Old Town Transit Center.

The Mid-Coast Extension was built at a cost of $2.1 billion, according to San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Work commenced in 2016, and the trolley is expected to open to the broader public for daily use beginning in November. Funding was secured by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, via TransNet, a half-cent sales tax for local transportation projects and a grant from the federal government.

According to SANDAG, the population is anticipated to grow by nearly 20% along the extension corridor within the next decade, while employment is predicted to increase by 10% over that period. Transportation modeling done by SANDAG indicates that the line will attract 20,000 new daily riders into the system.

Once complete, riders will be within half a mile, or roughly a 10-minute walk, of approximately 5 million square feet of office and flex space in the University Town Center area, a number that includes a 400,000-square-foot future lab development by Alexandria Real Estate Equities at the terminus of the Blue Line.

The extension is anticipated to spur multifamily development along the Morena Corridor as well. That corridor has three new trolley stops, and the city wants to turn these areas into urban-village-type projects.

The removal of minimum parking requirements for new apartment projects built within high-transit priority areas is expected to attract developers. Building height limits have also been raised from 45 to 65 feet near the Linda Vista/Morena trolley station and up to 100 feet near the new Tecolate station.

San Diego also approved zoning changes for the Balboa Avenue Station Area in Pacific Beach, which could turn the commercial corridor along Balboa Avenue into a dense residential village surrounding the new Balboa trolley stop. It would increase housing capacity by 3,500 units to more than 4,700 there.

The city also approved zoning changes in Linda Vista, near the new transit station nearby the University of San Diego. It increases the housing allowance there from 1,400 units to more than 7,000.

The first development along that corridor delivered at the beginning of the summer, a short walk from the new Tecolate station. Fairfield Residential built the 150-unit Seaton Apartments, which has leased more than 20 units per month so far, with average asking rents north of $3,250 per month.

It remains to be seen how the trolley extension will impact commutes for San Diegans. According to the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, ridership on the existing trolley lines is down roughly 60% relative to pre-pandemic ridership levels. But downtown residents, for instance, will soon be able to ride the trolley into University Town Center without getting out of their seat.

Still, San Diego is, and will likely continue to be, a car-centric city due to the wide dispersal of employment nodes in North County that are not currently connected to a trolley.

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