More Traffic for San Gabriel as Alameda East Hits Funding Wall
By HOWARD FINE
Cutbacks in state and federal budgets could force a major scale-back to the much-delayed $1 billion Alameda Corridor East project, adding to already increasing traffic congestion in the San Gabriel Valley.
The project, a collection of 20 proposed grade separations, is designed to end the backups that ensue when freight trains on their way to the giant transcontinental rail yards in the Colton area cross busy streets.
Envisioned as a two-phased project of 10 grade separations to be completed concurrently with the Alameda Corridor, which opened last year, only one grade separation is under construction, in City of Industry. Six others are in the design or property acquisition phase.
Project officials said three of the grade separations could be temporarily shelved if $70 million in state funds tentatively earmarked for the project are diverted to balance the state’s books as Gov. Gray Davis has proposed in his state budget.
“We would simply have to stop work on these projects and hope that the funds come through at some future date,” said Rick Richmond, chief executive of the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority.
While portions of the first half of the project may limp forward, the entire second half 10 major grade separations costing around $500 million is in limbo, without any funds at all.
“The second phase is pretty much a pipe dream at this point,” said Barry Sedlick, chief executive and president of the World Trade Center Association of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
If nothing changes, this lack of funding means the overall Alameda Corridor East project could end up being scaled back from 20 grade separations to just seven, leaving residents and businesses to cope with long delays on busy city streets, as ever more and longer trains crawl through the region.
Even if some of the funding does eventually come through, the wait is likely to be so long that the last of the grade separations won’t be finished for several years.
Local businesses are concerned about the delays and possible scaling back.
“In the last several months since the Alameda Corridor opened, I have found the trains to be more frequent and longer than they used to be,” said Gene Dahlin, co-owner of ELA Corp., a City of Industry-based lighting supply and architecture company. “Just last week, I had to wait 25 minutes for one train to pass through. It’s really, truly frustrating.”
Dahlin said the delays have forced him to cut back on the number of delivery runs his drivers make each day. “That’s only going to get worse as the construction goes forward and more trains come through.”
The concern is not limited to local businesses. When they cross streets at grade level, trains have to slow down for safety reasons; the more streets to cross, the longer it takes for the trains.
“Trains will have to operate at lower speeds until the improvements are made,” Sedlick said.
Some safety improvements, such as more crossing gates, have been completed at 43 street crossings throughout the San Gabriel Valley, Richmond said. But the intersection of Nogales Street and Valley Boulevard in Industry is the only site of major grade separation work.
Funding is in the bank for at least four more grade separation projects. After that, funding is less certain.
The Alameda Corridor East project was one of dozens throughout the state that Davis chose three years ago for a separate Traffic Congestion Relief Program fund. Of the $130 million set aside for the project, only $62 million has been allocated.
The balance was to be allocated this year or next, but when the governor released his proposed budget in January, it eliminated the TCRP program, folding all the projects into the regular Department of Transportation budget, where they would face increased competition for funds.
Looking to Washington
With additional funding from Sacramento looking shaky, attention now shifts to Washington. Sedlick said L.A. area port and transportation officials are meeting with their counterparts from across the country to make a joint push for more federal port and rail funding.
“We’re talking about goods movement throughout the entire nation,” he said. “Every single Congressional district in the country receives some goods shipped through L.A. ports. All states have an interest in securing more federal funds.”
But with a federal budget deficit already at $300 billion and greater expenses looming with the likely onset of war with Iraq, prying loose extra funding from Washington is not likely in the near term.
The only other source of funding is the railroads themselves, but, at best, they will only contribute up to $50 million through higher fees.
Meanwhile, the amount of cargo coming into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is expected to keep increasing, putting ever more pressure on the rail lines through the San Gabriel Valley.
“It’s just a matter of time before the situation becomes intolerable out here without significant improvements,” said Don Sachs, executive director of the City of Industry Manufacturers Council.