By Brad Mitzelfelt
1st District Supervisor, San Bernardino
With stimulation of job growth as one of my top priorities, the High Desert Corridor project is especially exciting because it will attract long-term, sustainable economic growth and create immediate construction jobs while improving the quality of life High Desert residents, easing congestion, and speeding goods movement through Southern California and the West.
Post-war Southern California has followed a pattern of growth that promotes congestion. Bedroom communities become populated with commuters who increasingly clog overburdened roads and freeways to reach faraway jobs. Highway infrastructure lags decades behind and never catches up. Family time decreases as commuting time increases.
We can learn from that historical trend by creating state-of-the-art infrastructure first and, with good land use planning, create the kind of jobs and housing together to reduce commutes, improve safety and our quality of life.
The High Desert Corridor is a 50-mile truck expressway connecting State Route 14 in Palmdale (which connects with Interstate 5) to Interstate 15 in Victorville.
Given that road projects typically take decades from conception to construction, we knew we could not build this critical project in a traditional manner, at least not in an acceptable time frame.
Seeing that the federal Highway Trust Fund was tapped out, I along with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich decided to create a Joint Powers Authority to attract the private sector to invest in the financing and construction of the High Desert Corridor. The JPA Board also includes representatives of each county, town and city along the route: Adelanto, Apple Valley, Victorville, Lancaster, and Palmdale.
I felt that if we combined private sector dollars in the public-private partnership model, which has worked in other states, wit forward-looking leadership by both counties along with San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), then we can accomplish in ten years what traditionally might have taken thirty.
To see the potential, you need only to look at a map. Southern California is literally the hub of international trade and from the High Desert, the spokes to the rest of the country are Interstates 15 and 40, along with the Union Pacific and BNSF Railway lines. But the east-west corridors, including Interstates 10 and 210, and State Route 60 are gridlocked, while Highways 138 and 58 are grossly inadequate to safely and efficiently handle the volumes of truck traffic they already have.
Highway 138 handles 15,000 vehicles a day with 10 percent of the volume being heavy trucks. Traffic volume between the fast-growing Antelope and Victor Valleys is projected to exceed 100,000 vehicles a day by 2035, with truck traffic increasing to 13 percent.
The need for a High Desert link between the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County and the Victor Valley in San Bernardino County was foreseen in the 1930s when the Auto Club dubbed it the “L.A. Bypass.” That was before the current system was even built.
As population growth in the high Desert of both counties sprinted to the highest levels in the country during the past decade and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles continue to ship 40 percent of the nation’s imports through our region, the need for a new, high-speed has become undeniable.
Our project got a major boost when Los Angeles County voters in 2008 approved a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects (similar to our own Measure I) and specifically identified $33 million for the environmental review of the High Desert Corridor. Los Angeles County MTA is now taking the lead on the environmental review and design, and has combined it with environmental work that has been underway for 10 years on the stretch from Victorville through Apple Valley which terminates at State Route 18 in Lucerne Valley.
The eastern stretch, which is being studied in the environmental review as part of the overall 63-mile study area, would connect to the High Desert Corridor interchange at Falchion road and Interstate 15 and continue east to Highway 18.
That part of the project will not happen until far into the future and would most likely be in the form of a traditional, realigned state highway segment. When funding does become available, extending the project east to serve the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan would be a natural step. However, nothing east of Interstate 15 is part of the public-private partnership for which we are seeking federal funding in the next six-year transportation bill.
The agency held public meetings on the combined Environmental Impact Report here in the High Desert in recent weeks and there will be further opportunities for public input in the fall, with a draft environmental document scheduled for the fall of 2012, and a final document expected in the spring of 2013.
As part of the environmental review, MTA is required by law to study alternatives, and one of those is Highway 138 could ever be improved into a high-speed truck expressway, much less a toll facility.
Master planning of warehousing, shipping, and manufacturing along its route, including Southern California Logistics Airport, and the Adelanto, Hesperia, and Apple Valley industrial areas, will spur further growth in air freight and manufacturing, and the logistics and export jobs that go with those industries. Those new jobs have a significant multiplier effect when workers need – and can afford – retail, entertainment, and professional services.
Construction of the 50-mile project is estimated to employ 16,000 workers starting in 2016. And an independent study done in 2007 by Economic and Planning Systems, Inc. estimates the High Desert Corridor would stimulate 42,000 sustainable, long term jobs – about 28,000 of those in the logistics industry.
We are trying to get the federal government to use the High Desert Corridor as a laboratory for a new and exciting technologies. High Speed Rail could run alongside the route, providing a convenient link to the Southern California High Speed Rail Project.
Solar panels and wind turbines will be sited along the expressway to provide power for the project and also for sale into the grid, creating another revenue source to offset the costs of maintaining and operating the six-lane expressway, while helping the state meet its renewable energy goals.
With its innovative financing, its capacity as a corridor for utilities, renewable energy, and high speed rail, and its creation of local jobs and master planned communities that will reduce commuter miles and truck congestion, this project will help the state meet its greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals, while improving air quality and the quality of life for High Desert residents. It is the kind of creative, multipurpose 21st Century project that should qualify for funding in the new federal transportation bill to be discussed by Congress later this year.
For these and other reasons, the High Desert Corridor will mean a better and brighter future for the High Desert and for all of Southern California.
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