Tag Archives: Perris Valley Line

UNA Metrolink Quiet Zone Update

Perris Valley Metrolink Blind Curve Islander ParkThe following comments are from Anne Mayer, Executive Director of RCTC.

  1. Quiet Zone infrastructure required for implementation was included as a part of the PVL construction package. Each crossing had slightly different requirements but the following is a summary of the types of features(SSM’s) included.  Median curb to prevent vehicles from driving around the gates, additional vehicular gates on either side of the crossing, sidewalks, pedestrian gates, fencing, signing and signals. All associated conduit, wiring, batteries, relays, sensors and other appurtenances are also part of the infrastructure.
  1. The Quiet Zone infrastructure has been constructed and the vehicular crossings are operational. There are pedestrian gates and gate arms that will be installed immediately preceding testing.
  1. The construction work is substantially complete. As a part of the construction contract close out, we prepare “punch lists” detailing work the contractor must complete/repair prior to our acceptance of the contract. They could have minor clean up/repair work in or near those crossings.  None of that work would interfere with final testing or Quiet Zone processing. Testing could lead to subsequent work as well. I understand that the City is also doing some work at various crossings in conjunction with the University Neighborhood Association. I do not know the status of that effort.
  1. All of the independent testing that can be done has been completed. We are at a point now where we must test those crossings in conjunction with the system. We agree that these crossings are a priority and we will begin the final testing at the north end of the project. As I mentioned, the crossings (including new equipment and subsystems) are currently functioning.  The final in-service testing is performed to ensure that all subsystems work in conjunction with each other as designed and all safety concerns are satisfied with the new timing (based on new passenger train speeds).  The final in-service testing requires the movement of trains through each individual crossing and through each group of crossings, to verify controls and indications tests and overall functional tests.
  1. We anticipate that service will start near the end of the year.  Final testing will begin in mid-October and our goal is to obtain all necessary clearances in November so that the City can proceed with the Notice. These locations have been prioritized in the final testing processes. We have been working very closely with Metrolink, BNSF, FRA and PUC for several years to ensure that these crossings are Quiet Zone compliant and eligible. The City has reviewed and approved the design and construction.  This advance collaboration should result in a simplified and streamlined process. We are in close communication with the City to ensure that they have whatever they need from us to implement.

I understand the importance of these quiet zones to the neighborhood. At this time, I don’t see any impediments to implementation however the final testing phase is crucial. It is the final testing that verifies that the system components are functioning under operating conditions which will allow the City to proceed with Quiet Zone implementation. In fact, it is final testing along the entire corridor that will dictate the service start-up date. The goal of all involved is to have the quiet zones operational before service starts however the timing of the approval process is outside of our direct control. Trains will have to run with horns working until such time as the City completes the process. Testing trains will also be required to use horns. I hope this information is helpful and addresses your questions.

We were not able to use boulders at the Poarch Road crossing as chain link fencing was required by the CPUC for 150 feet on either side of the crossing. The crossing itself will be a tubular framed gate that will sit on a rolling gate rail. I’ve attached a draft plan so you can see what it looks like.   This emergency crossing is being constructed to ensure compliance not only with FRA, CPUC, and Metrolink but also with emergency responders requirements. There are a number of specialty safety and emergency access features we are providing at this location and we will likely start testing with interim gates. The final gates installed will be similar to the plan I included. We believe that horns will be required however do not have verification yet on allowances that can or can’t be made at emergency crossings.

Please let me know if you have additional questions

Anne

BNSF Railway Tests Switch to Natural Gas

By RUSSELL GOLD

BNSF Railway Co., one of the biggest U.S. consumers of diesel fuel, plans this year to test using natural gas to power its locomotives instead.

Warren Buffet's BNSF Railroad To Test Switch To Natural GasU.S. natural-gas production will accelerate over the next three decades, new research indicates, providing the strongest evidence yet that the energy boom remaking America will last for a generation.
If successful, the experiment could weaken oil’s dominance as a transportation fuel and provide a new outlet for the glut of cheap natural gas in North America.

The surplus, spurred by new technologies that unlock the fuel from underground rock formations, has sent natural-gas prices plummeting. That has prompted industries from electric utilities to tugboat operators to switch to gas. If freight rail joins the parade, it would usher in one of the most sweeping changes to the railroad industry in decades.

“This could be a transformational event for our railroad,” BNSF Chief Executive Matt Rose said of the plan, which hasn’t been publicly announced. Shifting to natural gas would “rank right up there” with the industry’s historic transition away from steam engines last century, he said.

BNSF, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, considered using gas-powered locomotives in the late 1980s, but shelved the plans when natural-gas prices rose.

Freight railroads overwhelmingly are powered by diesel fuel refined from crude oil. BNSF, the largest railroad in the U.S., estimates it is the second-biggest user of diesel in the country, after the U.S. Navy.

A potential shift to gas faces many hurdles, however, including getting approval from federal regulators on fuel-tank safety. Introducing gas also will require different fuel depots, special tanker cars to carry the fuel and training for depot workers.

That won’t come cheaply. Just retrofitting a diesel locomotive and adding the tanker car could add 50% to a locomotive’s roughly $2 million price tag, though that increase would diminish as economies of scale take hold.

Mr. Rose said his company nevertheless would quickly move to a “retrofit of existing road locomotives” if the pilot locomotives prove reliable. The pilot trains are expected to get rolling this fall in the hopes retrofitting could begin about a year later.

BNSF, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., BRKB +0.59% considered using gas-powered locomotives in the late 1980s, but shelved the plans when natural-gas prices rose.

This time may well be different. A gallon of diesel fuel cost an average of $3.97 last year, according to federal statistics. The equivalent amount of energy in natural gas cost 48 cents at industrial prices.

That gap doesn’t accurately reflect the potential savings since the railroad will have to pay to cool natural gas into a dense, energy-packed liquid. BNSF also faces sizable upfront costs, which it declined to disclose, to retrofit even a portion of its roughly 6,900 existing locomotives. Still, experts believe that natural gas has the potential to be significantly less expensive than diesel for years to come.

BNSF is working with manufacturers to develop a locomotive that can run on diesel and gas, which Mr. Rose said could lower fuel costs and help meet federal air-pollution standards that take effect in two years.

The new locomotives, which use liquefied natural gas, are being developed by units of General Electric Co. GE -0.19% and Caterpillar Inc. CAT -2.04% Mr. Rose said preliminary tests indicated that LNG-powered trains could go farther before refueling than diesel trains and have comparable towing power.

The BNSF move is the latest step by companies and industries to use more natural gas, a fuel that is efficient, domestically produced and cleaner than alternatives. There growing supply of natural gas in North America has made it significantly less expensive than crude oil for each unit of energy delivered.

Electric utilities, which years ago essentially abandoned burning oil in favor of coal, have started shifting to gas-fired power plants. Chemical, steel and fertilizer makers are planning new facilities in the U.S. to take advantage of low gas prices.

Companies and government agencies increasingly are looking at using gas to power fleet vehicles, such as garbage trucks. And gas is making inroads in marine vessels. Wärtsilä WRT1V.HE +1.32% Oyj last year signed contracts to send China the world’s first tugboats operating on diesel-LNG engines. Last December the Finnish company was selected to provide a similar engine for a ferry across the St. Lawrence River in Quebec.

Like municipal bus fleets, which have converted to engines running on compressed natural gas in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, trains are easier to fuel than other modes of transportation because they repeatedly travel on fixed routes. That makes it less cumbersome to build enough fueling depots. Compressed natural gas is similar to LNG, but requires a different fuel tank and engine.

Natural gas faces higher obstacles to penetrate the nation’s biggest diesel-fuel market: long-distance trucks. They are by far the largest consumers of diesel in the U.S. and there has been considerable interest in converting them to run on natural gas. But truck routes can vary and finding enough refueling stations has been a problem.

Royal Dutch Shell RDSB.LN -0.04% PLC on Monday said it was completing plans to produce liquefied natural gas in Louisiana and Ontario and supply it to as many as 200 truck stops in the U.S., adding to a small, but growing, network of natural-gas fueling stations. A Shell executive said he believed more LNG production facilities will be built in North America as demand grows

Some experts say switching railroads to natural gas could take time.

Canadian National Railway Co. CNR.T +0.75% in September retrofitted two locomotives to run on a mixture of 90% LNG and 10% diesel. A spokesman for the company, the largest railroad in Canada, said there would be “mechanical and fuel logistics challenges” with widespread conversion and that it was too early to determine if the pilot program was successful.

The dual-fuel technology “is not a slam dunk,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, the president of GE’s transportation business. But “we are working with BNSF as well as other [large railroads] to provide them the pilots and then start working towards a full production of locomotives and retrofits.”

Change historically has come slowly to the railroad industry.

But there are compelling reasons for railroads to ponder the switch, including new Environmental Protection Agency air-pollution standards for railroads that will likely require railroads to add expensive emissions-control equipment to new diesel locomotives in 2015.

“The overriding incentive is the low price of the fuel,” said Raj Sekar, manager of engines and emissions research at Argonne National Laboratory. He said it would likely take at least five years for gas-powered locomotives to be a significance presence on the rails.

While  railroads consume only 6% of diesel burned in the U.S., according to the federal government, some experts believe BNSF’s decision to try using gas could have a large psychological impact on energy markets.

“This is the kind of change that gets people thinking,” said Kevin Book, an energy-industry consultant. “It will answer the question that everyone is wondering: Is there a future for LNG transportation for freight hauling?”

—Tom Fowler
contributed to this article.

Write to Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications

BNSF has about 6,900 locomotives. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said 6,9000.

Perris Valley Metrolink Lawsuit Settled

$3 million settlement reached with homegrown

environmental group Friends Of Riverside’s Hills

  “We are pleased that the environmental and community benefits of the Project have been significantly increased by this agreement,” said Len Nunney, Secretary of Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

“It will help the most heavily impacted homeowners in the neighborhood, and increase preservation of the natural open space area near to the tracks that is part of an important linkage between Box Springs Mountain Reserve and Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park.”

 

Increased Frieght On The Perris Valley LineA local environmental group has agreed to drop a lawsuit blocking a $237 million commuter rail extension from Riverside to Perris, in exchange for $3 million in concessions, officials said Wednesday, July 10.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission’s chief announced the Perris Valley Line deal with Friends of Riverside’s Hills at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Read more . . .

 

Obey Environmental Law And Metrolink Extension Can Proceed

BY LEN NUNNEY
June 09, 2013; 04:00 AM
The United States is a nation governed by laws that provide for a safe and prosperous society. Unfortunately, some individuals and groups sometimes see themselves above the law, arguing that their interests are too important to be subject to the same rules that govern everyone else.

Friends of Riverside’s Hills came into being 13 years ago because a group of local residents observed repeated and egregious violations of the codes regulating development in Western Riverside County by both developers and local government agencies.

Our mandate was simple: to ensure that the local and state rules designed to preserve and enhance the quality of life of the residents of the area were followed. Riverside may not have an ocean to attract people, but it does have parks and trails that highlight its natural beauty.

Friends of Riverside’s Hills is a small 501(c)3 charity with no paid staff. As such, we can only focus on projects that violate important environmental and quality-of-life protections, or have other serious legal problems. When a project comes up, Friends focuses on whether or not the appropriate environmental regulations are being taken into account, rather than taking a position on the merits of the project.

When rules are being violated, we suggest changes that would help the project conform to the relevant regulations, lessening its environmental impact and, where possible, creating a benefit for the community.

Perris Valley Metrolink

NO INTEREST IN DELAY

The Perris Valley Line project, proposed by the Riverside County Transportation Commission to extend Metrolink train service from Riverside to Perris, was this kind of project — one that had some serious problems that could be corrected. Friends of Riverside’s Hills has no interest in delaying this project.

We have always been (and still are) very keen to reach a settlement that would avoid further delay. Throughout the long approval process to adopt the Environmental Impact Report we pointed out in great detail issues that needed to be addressed, but the response of the RCTC was always the same — that our concerns were not valid, and that the EIR had more than satisfied all of the legal requirements. It is this attitude of the RCTC, proved wrong by the court’s decision, that has delayed the project. RCTC’s outraged response to the decision shows that it still believes that it can do no wrong. It is a sad day when a public body that is supposed to serve the public good holds such a view.

DEADLY POSSIBILITIES

An example of our concerns is RCTC’s position regarding the safety of the hundreds of UC Riverside students who cross the railroad tracks every quarter at the start of their hike up to the big “C” on the side of Box Springs Mountain using the Big “C” Trail (as it is called on Google Earth).

Metrolink trains are much faster and quieter than the freight trains that currently use the line.

This represents a serious public safety issue. The RCTC’s response was that this issue was not their concern because the students were trespassing every time they cross the tracks. Fortunately, this irresponsible view was not upheld by the court, but if RCTC can get its way and ignore the court’s ruling, nothing will be done to mitigate this concern — until, one suspects, a student is struck by a train.

The California Environmental Quality Act, which governs lawsuits such as Friends of Riverside’s Hills’, is an easy target for the powerful to attack, but it allows for small watchdog groups like Friends to ensure that commonsense environmental regulations are enforced. Friends has neither the time nor the money to file frivolous suits, and we never gain financially from winning.

Our lawsuit against RCTC was motivated by the agency’s failure to consider issues such as pedestrian crossings over or under the tracks, trails along the tracks, wildlife impacts, air pollution, and noise pollution.

Now that our belief that the EIR was inadequate has been validated by the court, it is unfortunate that RCTC continues to act as if it is too powerful an agency to be subject to CEQA, the state law established to protect all California residents.

Len Nunney, secretary of Friends of Riverside’s Hills, wrote this commentary on the organization’s behalf.

– See more at: http://www.pe.com/opinion/local-views-headlines/20130609-opinion-obey-environmental-law-and-metrolink-extension-can-proceed.ece#sthash.ZKhtWBlu.dpuf

End Obstruction Support Metrolink Extension To Perris

BY KAREN SPIEGEL
June 09, 2013; 04:00 AM

Metrolink Train

‘Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

One organization that needs to pay heed to the old adage is the Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

Taking NIMBYism to an extreme, this “environmental” organization actually brought a lawsuit to stop a transit project that has been in the works for more than 10 years.

Metrolink, one of Southern California’s biggest success stories, has changed lives by offering an environmentally responsible option for long-term commuters, and a significant number of its riders come from Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The Perris Valley Line, which would go from Riverside to Perris, would take cars off the freeway, eliminate millions of vehicle-miles traveled each year and create thousands of well-paying local construction jobs. Yet, it is now being threatened as a result of a May 14 court ruling ordering decertification of the project’s Environmental Impact Report.

The issues involve the number of truck trips needed to construct the project, noise, track lubrication, and impacts on those who illegally trespass along the rail right of way. The ruling also jeopardizes $75 million in federal funding and halts progress on a project twice approved by — you — the voters, who supported Measure A, the half-cent sales tax measure.

As our region moves toward encouraging public transit use and reducing harmful air quality emissions associated with vehicle traffic, the “Friends” group remains committed to stopping a 24-mile expansion of rail service that will serve job centers such as Hunter Park, the March Air Reserve Base and UC Riverside.

LONGSTANDING TRACKS

Nevermind that the train tracks have existed for more than a century and are home to much noisier and disruptive freight trains, the addition of six round-trip Metrolink trains led to unfortunate litigation.

If there is a legal victory for the Friends group, it won’t be shared by everyone. All of Southern California — and especially all of us in Riverside County — should question if anything was gained and how much more was lost. That’s because RCTC, through a multi-year and multimillion-dollar planning effort, made a good faith effort to address local concerns.

The Metrolink project provides schools along the rail tracks with sound walls, constructs new improvements at rail crossings to improve safety and adds attractive new rail stations at major employment centers, all of which will enhance what has been a long-neglected freight rail corridor.

Moreover, RCTC committed to funding quiet zones. In short, the addition of new train service improves the environment much more than it will impact it; a court victory against the project will be a much bigger loss for everyone.

EVER-SHIFTING DEMANDS

Riverside County’s future will certainly be impacted because we need to establish an effective transit backbone that connects bus, rail and park and rides. The Friends group will argue its concerns can be met; however, much like Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown before he can kick the football, its demands change just as they are about to be met.

It’s time to ask the Friends about what their organization stands for, and where their litigation proceeds are spent. They have manipulated California environmental law to their advantage and the rest of the region will pay the price.

RCTC has been and remains willing to engage in negotiations for a reasonable settlement with the Friends of Riverside’s Hills. To date, we have been unsuccessful. The future of transit in Western Riverside County is at stake, and we stand ready to have a public and transparent discussion about ways we can move forward for the benefit of our entire community.

RCTC will be in Sacramento pursuing changes in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to protect worthwhile transit projects from spurious legal challenges. You can also count on us to appeal this court decision in order to prevent the negative precedent that would be set if this project cannot proceed.

Karen Spiegel, a member of the Corona City Council, is chair of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.

– See more at: http://www.pe.com/opinion/local-views-headlines/20130609-opinion-end-obstruction-support-metrolink-extension-to-perris.ece#sthash.K6b6Vbt1.dpuf

PERRIS VALLEY LINE: Environmental Group Says It’s Not Trying To Kill Project

Metrolink Train

 

BY DAVE DOWNEY
June 09, 2013; 02:06 PM

PERRIS VALLEY LINE: Environmental group says it’s not trying to kill project

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PERRIS VALLEY LINE: Environmental group says it’s not trying to kill project

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PERRIS VALLEY LINE: Environmental group says it’s not trying to kill project

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A small Riverside environmental group that persuaded a judge to halt a 24-mile commuter rail line maintains it isn’t trying to kill the $232.7 million project, but make it friendly to the environment and neighborhoods.

Three members of Friends of Riverside’s Hills said this week they are willing to negotiate a compromise with the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the regional agency planning the Perris Valley Line, to pave the way for certifying a crucial environmental impact report and launching construction.

“We think this thing can be settled,” said group member Richard Block in a Thursday, June 6 meeting with the Press-Enterprise editorial board. “We don’t want to torpedo this project.”

The transportation commission wants to add a line to Metrolink’s Southern California rail system, providing new service to the UC Riverside area, Moreno Valley, March Air Reserve Base and Perris, while putting trains within reach of Menifee and other southwest Riverside County communities. The line would have an estimated 4,000 boardings daily via four stations: north Riverside, March Air Reserve Base, downtown Perris and south Perris at Interstate 215 and Highway 74.
View Perris Valley Line in a larger map

The Friends of Riverside’s Hills sued in August 2011, one month after the commission adopted the environmental study. On May 14, Riverside Superior Court Judge Sharon J. Waters ordered the regional transportation body to set aside its approval, putting construction on hold indefinitely. The decision potentially jeopardizes $75 million in federal funding awarded for the project.

Construction was expected to take 13 to 15 months.

Anne Mayer, the agency’s executive director, said in a telephone interview she was encouraged by the group’s expressed willingness to settle.

“I’m delighted that they are saying they are interested in moving the project forward,” Mayer said.

She said the agency received an extensive list of demands in May, following the ruling, and will present those to the full commission in closed session at its monthly meeting Wednesday, June 12, in Riverside. Commissioners also will consider whether to appeal last month’s ruling, she said.

“We submitted a list of demands which we know were excessive,” said Block, who lives 2,100 feet from the tracks. “We are willing to compromise on many of these demands.”

However, it would seem the group and agency remain far apart.

While declining to say precisely what it would take for the group to drop its challenge, Block and the others mentioned some of the many issues they want addressed in the community around UCR, including soundproofing homes near the railroad, placing planned sound walls farther from homes, installing an automatic shut-off valve on a jet fuel pipeline that crosses tracks en route to March, and building underpasses for three informal hiking trails leading into the Box Springs Mountain area.

One trail is the heavily used route to the prominent, gold “C” that looks down on Riverside and the university.

“That’s a trail that’s been used for generations,” Block said.

Citing a 2004 assessment that indicated nearly 200 homes in the UCR area would suffer noise impacts, group members said they would like to see most, if not all, soundproofed. Mayer countered that the assessment was preliminary and is not relevant. She said the environmental report determined 67 residences would be “severely or moderately” affected by noise and the commission will build sound walls to shield all.

In addition, Mayer said, the commission proposed to the group to go beyond what is required and equip those 67 homes with insulated windows, at a cost of $1 million. She said the offer was turned down.

John Standiford, commission deputy executive director, said he fails to understand the noise concern.

“Our trains are considerably quieter than any of the freight trains on the tracks,” Standiford said. “Our trains are lighter, less polluting, quieter. And we’d be getting people out of cars to take the train.”

But Block said the Metrolink extension would introduce 12 additional trips a day, including one that would traverse the university neighborhood at 4:15 in the morning.

“That’s going to perhaps wake up people,” Block said.

As for the shut-off valve, the group says it wants to prevent an environmental disaster by immediately halting flow of jet fuel should a derailment or train vibration spring a leak. Mayer said the pipeline owner, Kinder-Morgan, told the commission there are ample shut-off valves in place — at Colton, March and in between — and they are capable of halting leaks in a few minutes.

Mayer added that the commission won’t build underpasses for informal hiking trails across tracks, which are essentially illegal crossings.

“People don’t belong on railroad tracks and they shouldn’t be crossing railroad tracks where it is not safe to do so,” she said. “We’re not going to do anything to encourage people to trespass on the rail right of way.”

Gurumantra Khalsa, group member and chairman of the University Neighborhood Association, said he doesn’t understand the resistance to underpasses. He said several have been built along tracks elsewhere in Southern California to provide access to beaches and parks.

While the agency is willing to negotiate, Mayer said some demands won’t be met because they aren’t necessary.

“We’re not just writing a blank check,” she added.

In any event, the commission must decide how to respond to Judge Waters’ May 14 ruling, invalidating the environmental report. Through a court secretary, Waters declined to talk to a reporter about the ruling, citing judicial ethics.

– See more at: http://www.pe.com/local-news/local-news-headlines/20130609-perris-valley-line-environmental-group-says-its-not-trying-to-kill-project.ece#sthash.lwF4fylf.dpuf

PERRIS VALLEY LINE: Mark Takano Fights For Funding

 

 

 

8247364 bytes; 3326 x 2217; Congressman Mark Takano makes a point, at right,  as Colonel Samuel Mahaney Commander, 452nd Air Mob

Mark Takano speaks with military officials at March Air Reserve Base in April. Takano recently penned a letter to the FTA to support continued funding for the Perris Valley Line as it fights a legal battle. FILE PHOTO

 

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) sent a letter today, June 11, to Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) asking him to keep funds that were dedicated to the Perris Valley Line available while the Riverside County Transportation Commission deals with litigation.

 

RELATED: Opponents of Perris Valley Line trying to make project more environmentally friendly, they say

 

The FTA granted RCTC $75 million through its Small Starts program to extend a Metrolink line from Downtown Riverside to the southern end of Perris. The litigation has put the project on hold, which means RCTC runs the risk of losing that funding, according to John Standiford, the deputy executive director.

 

You can get details on the project in this story.

 

Here is the letter from Takano.

 

Dear Administrator Rogoff,

The Perris Valley Line Metrolink Extension represents a significant step towards sustainable living in California’s 41st Congressional District and I welcome the $75 million federal investment that has been appropriated by Congress for this project.

As you may know, a California Superior Court Judge recently ordered decertification of the Perris Valley Line’s environmental impact report (EIR) prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The project’s sponsor, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), has assured me that they are pursuing all options available to ensure that the Perris Valley Line ultimately moves forward to construction.

I urge the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to take all actions necessary to preserve the $75 million that has been appropriated under the Small Starts program for Perris Valley Line during ongoing litigation. The Small Starts grant is an imperative piece of the total funding for the Perris Valley Line project and I encourage the FTA to ensure that the Perris Valley Line project remain eligible to receive the grant once CEQA litigation has concluded.

Perris Valley Line provides critical regional connectivity to my constituents, particularly in the underserved cities of Perris and Moreno Valley, while connecting major job centers in Riverside and March Air Reserve Base.

Thank you for FTA’s continued support of Perris Valley Line and for working with RCTC to advance livability and mobility in California’s 41st Congressional District.

Sincerely, Mark Takano

Rail Lines Bring Housing Clashes

SEATTLE—When the Central Link light-rail line opened here four years ago, city officials were hoping it would spur economic development in the working-class neighborhood of Rainier Valley.

The trains have lived up to expectations. Property values have risen, stores have opened, and ridership in the area has nearly tripled since the year after the service began. But there also are signs that rising housing costs near rail stops are starting to push out lower-income residents.

 

image

Matthew Ryan Williams for The Wall Street Journal

Seattle’s light-rail system has pushed up rents in some neighborhoods, pricing out some longtime residents.

Now, Seattle and other cities are trying to find ways to foster affordable housing near train stations. In the past couple of years, several have organized multimillion-dollar funds to provide low-interest loans to developers seeking to buy or build affordable housing near the stops. These cities, having spent billions to build light-rail systems, are loath to see those systems price out the residents who are most likely to use public transportation.

In cities with established rail systems, such as Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, developers mostly have used these new loans to buy apartment complexes near the stops. In other cities with newer, expanding rail systems, such as Seattle and Denver, loans are used more often by developers to buy land on which to build affordable housing. The loan programs typically define affordable housing as rents that can be paid by residents earning anywhere from 30% to 80% of the area’s median income.

Seattle last year assembled $7 million from federal grants, a city property-tax levy and nonprofit local lending groups to fund low-interest loans for the development of as many as 200 apartments by 2015 at any of six rail stops in and near Rainier Valley. The city, which is taking applications from borrowers through the end of this month, anticipates most bidders likely will be nonprofit housing developers who use a combination of low-income tax credits and low-interest loans.

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Matthew Ryan Williams for The Wall Street Journal

Seattle resident Rommy Gibson

“The funds make a small dent in the need,” said Melinda Pollack, a vice president at nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, which helped start such affordable-housing funds in several cities. “Without them, you may have absolutely no affordable housing near transit.”

Professors at Northeastern University in Boston examined 42 neighborhoods in 12 U.S. cities in 2010 and found that housing costs near rail stops increased after light-rail service started in many markets. “A new transit station can set in motion a cycle of unintended consequences in which core transit users…are priced out in favor of higher-income, car-owning residents,” the authors wrote.

Not everyone agrees that lower-income residents are losing out. Roger Valdez, a nonprofit housing developer in Seattle who blogs about land use and planning there, noted that the Link rail system provides Rainier Valley residents low-cost transportation to jobs and schools in other communities. While it increases housing costs, it also lowers transportation costs for residents near rail stops, he said. And it brings more shoppers, residents and stores to the area.

“The people who are struggling are going to pay more rent, but they’re going to make more money,” Mr. Valdez said. “And their other costs will go down.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation began pushing cities to build or expand light-rail systems in the 1990s and 2000s, often to reduce traffic. Proponents say light rail curtails sprawl by encouraging dense development around rail stops.

[image]

Others think the affordable-housing funds compound what they say is an inefficient form of transportation. “The way that you get affordable housing is by stopping the government policies that make it unaffordable in the first place,” said Wendell Cox, a demographer and urban-policy consultant in Illinois.

Rainier Valley, a racially mixed neighborhood of low-slung homes and strip malls southeast of downtown Seattle, had a median per-capita income roughly 40% below the citywide median from 2007 to 2011, census figures show. But the announcement of the rail-line route, in 1999, and its launch 10 years later boosted rents in the area. A report by the Puget Sound Regional Council shows assessed values for certain parcels around one Rainier Valley station rose by an average of 513% since 1999.

Two new apartment complexes have now been built near rail stops—the neighborhood’s first private development of market-rate apartments in roughly 40 years—one of which includes a coffee house, a teriyaki restaurant and a Mexican eatery. These new buildings have helped push the average monthly rent in Rainier Valley to roughly $1,000 this year from $700 in 2008 for complexes of 20 units or more, according to Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors.

That has priced out the likes of Rommy Gibson, who earns about $33,000 a year. He said he left his one-bedroom apartment near the nursing home where he has worked since 1985 because his $750 rent was scheduled to rise. His landlord, Carl Haglund, began renovating a 23-unit apartment building last year near a rail stop, renamed it the Link and raised rents by roughly 40%. Mr. Haglund found Mr. Gibson an apartment at another building 40 blocks away, where he pays $700 a month and rides a bus to work.

Meanwhile, new tenants at the Link include Boeing BA -0.48% technician Nick Greenaway and his wife, who own three cars. They rented a refurbished one-bedroom apartment in March for $1,045 a month, which he said “turned out to be a real bargain.”

Write to Kris Hudson at kris.hudson@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared June 11, 2013, on page A4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Rail Lines Bring Housing Clashes.

Perris Valley Line Goes To Court

It looks like our day in court has arrived. . . from the Press Enterprise

Richard Block, a Riverside Hills member, said concerns ranging from the tons of dirt that will be hauled away from the project to the squealing of train wheels are unresolved.

“The evidence presented in the environmental process clearly shows the project will have negative impacts,” Block said. “And they are either incompetent to them or ignoring them.”

He also said officials are grossly overestimating the line’s ridership, noting that the 4,300 daily riders estimated in the report would exceed the ridership of existing Metrolink service in Riverside County. Ridership along the entire 91 Line from Riverside to Union Station in Los Angeles was 5,161 in June, according to Metrolink.

Read more

Friends Of Riverside’s Hills Files Perris Valley Line Lawsuit

The American Planning Association Daily Planning News offered a concise statement of the issues as you might expect from a professional organization.

When the impacts of economic growth threaten the health of the community and our  environment, then economic and environmental justice demand a high return on taxpayer dollars.  Professional planners all know this. They also know that politics always plays a role and that’s where the public interest gets left behind. That’s when professionals loose sight of who their professional expertise is supposed to serve. That would be the public.

The RCTC stands ready to defend what will soon become indefensible. They recently settled a lawsuit by the Riverside Unified School District. The District had to sue in order to get obvious mitigation measures.

If our public agencies are forced to sue each other over a project’s  mitigation measures, there is likely something more serious being perpetrated on the public than meets the eye.  Barney Barnett has given us a behind the scenes look at this boon doggle project.

That leaves the University Neighborhood, Sycamore Highlands and parts of Orange Crest to fend for ourselves. The City signed an M.O.U. with the RCTC to get quiet zones for the rest of the City if they agreed not to support any opposition to the Perris Valley Line.

It seems a bit inconsistent for a City proclaiming and celebrating very real achievements in many areas of environmental excellence to  remain silent as city residents are forced to sue to have their environmental rights and quality of life protected.  Read the complaint and suit at:   2011.08.23 Petition for Writ of Mandate

Good public transportation  policy is generally agreed to add value to the ridership. Cost, convenience and comfort are the ridership drivers that keep public transportation operational and profitable.

The Perris Valley line will be comfortable. But cost and convenience are simply not there. That makes it poor public policy.  The environmental impacts are being challenged in the Friend’s lawsuit.

The rest of Riverside will soon be enjoying quiet nights and restful sleep. Our wishes for sweet dreams aside, we will be organizing, fund raising and generally having a grand old time celebrating University Neighborhood Values — even if it’s before a judge.

Pass this around to your friends and neighbors. Urge them to sign up to get updates and opportunities for some mirth and fund raising parities – UNA style.

Other Links:

Highgrove Happenings

Are We Being Railroaded By The Perris Valley Line?

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