Long Beach, Los Angeles Agree to Form Authority to Oversee Alameda Corridor
The cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles, hoping to divert train and truck traffic from their ports to a central corridor linked to downtown Los Angeles, have agreed to set up a joint powers authority to oversee development of a proposed 20-mile transitway along Alameda Street.
The proposed corridor would run from Wilmington to the Santa Monica Freeway and would provide a direct rail connection from San Pedro Bay to rail yards near downtown Los Angeles. Two of the three railroads that operate in the ports now use roundabout routes that cut through residential neighborhoods in several Southeast and South Bay cities.
Although officials from some cities along the so-called Alameda Street Corridor have reservations about the plan, Long Beach and Los Angeles officials say it is the best way to deal with expected increases in train and truck traffic at the ports over the next three decades.
Under the proposal, all three railroads would share tracks in the new corridor, which would run parallel to Alameda Street along existing Southern Pacific Transportation Co. tracks, known as the San Pedro Line. Alameda would be widened north of the Artesia Freeway (widening south of the freeway is already under way). And 16 major intersections would be eliminated through “grade separations” that would create overpasses or tunnels for Alameda and the railroad tracks.
The road improvements, officials said, would make Alameda Street more attractive to truckers now using the Long Beach and Harbor freeways as well as surface streets in Long Beach, Wilmington and Carson. Alameda would serve as the primary truck route to central Los Angeles, substituting for previous plans to create an industrial expressway by extending the Terminal Island Freeway.
“It means an improvement in air quality, lessening of traffic congestion and lessened traffic delays at railroad crossings,” said Gill Hicks, manager of transportation planning for the Port of Long Beach. “We estimate there would be about 8,200 vehicle hours of delay that could be eliminated by consolidating the rail line.”
The Long Beach City Council and commissioners from the Port of Los Angeles voted last month to approve the agreement setting up the joint powers authority. Port of Long Beach commissioners approved it earlier this month, and the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of it last Wednesday.
The authority will be governed by a board representing the two ports, Los Angeles County, the county Transportation Commission and Long Beach, Los Angeles, Carson, Compton, Lynwood, South Gate, Huntington Park and Vernon. Because of state restrictions on spending port money, decisions involving funds provided by the ports will be made by a governing board subcommittee, composed of the two ports and the Transportation Commission.
Los Angeles officials said they expect the other cities and government agencies to agree to join the governing board within the next few weeks. The authority--formally known as the Consolidated Transportation Corridor Joint Powers Authority--is expected to hold its first meeting in late August.
“It really is a big deal,” Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores said after the Los Angeles City Council voted 12 to 0 to approve creation of the authority. “But it is one of those things you don’t get a lot of credit for. People don’t realize (the congestion) we are preventing. It is really a (preventive) action.”
City and port officials said the authority’s first order of business will be to hire a consultant to come up with a formal plan to develop the proposed corridor. Before any of it could be built, the authority would need to conduct environmental studies, receive a number of approvals from cities along the route and find money to pay for it. Construction costs alone are expected to exceed $300 million, with the ports expected to provide most of the money.
Railroads Express Interest
The authority will include a separate railroad advisory board consisting of the three railroad companies using the ports. Although the railroads have expressed interest in the proposed corridor, port officials said the authority will need to negotiate with Southern Pacific for use of its right-of-way.
Arthur B. Goodwin, director of the corridor project for the Port of Los Angeles, said the authority and railroads will also have to resolve questions about scheduling conflicts, competition among the railroads and jurisdiction over the rail lines.
“All the pieces aren’t there, but they are starting to come together,” Goodwin said.
Studies prepared for a task force set up four years ago to look into the proposed corridor projected that as many as 106 trains a day will use the two ports by 2020, when several major port expansion projects are scheduled to be finished. Currently an average of 31 trains travel in and out of the ports daily.
Without the proposed rail corridor, officials from the two ports said, some neighborhoods along rail lines passing through Southeast and South Bay cities will become clogged with trains. The Union Pacific Railroad route from downtown Los Angeles to the ports stretches through several cities, including Long Beach, Paramount and South Gate. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. route slices through Inglewood, Westchester and Torrance.
“When a mile-long train stops, it can block three or more major arterials at the same time,” said Hicks of the Port of Long Beach. “There would be concern about emergency vehicles getting through.”
Long Beach Councilman Warren Harwood, whose district at the north end of the city includes a portion of the Union Pacific line, said there are no bridges over the tracks to allow traffic to move when a train stops.
“We have had them sit on the tracks for more than an hour when they have some problem or breakdown,” he said. “It creates a tremendous disruption.”
Under the plans, Union Pacific and Santa Fe would not abandon their existing routes, but officials expect the number of trains to sharply decrease because the lines would no longer be needed to service the ports.
Cities Won Seats
Cities along the Alameda corridor have been involved with the task force since it was created by the Southern California Assn. of Governments in 1985, but initial plans for the joint powers authority did not give them representation on the authority governing board. Late last year, six of the cities joined forces, demanded seats on the board--and won.
“People were depressed and disheartened at the time, but there is strength in numbers,” said one official from an affected city who asked not to be identified. “The six of us got together, and it made a difference.”
Councilwoman Flores, who represents the Port of Los Angeles area and who has served as head of the Alameda task force, said the final agreement between the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach to establish the authority came after extensive talks with the neighboring cities. She said some of the cities were particularly concerned about having a say in determining which intersections along the route would be improved first.
“There was a lot of fear that what was good for the ports wouldn’t be good for the cities,” Flores said.
Joseph Wong, director of public works in Lynwood, said cities along the route were also concerned that problems created by the corridor--including noise and increased traffic--not be left to the cities to tackle alone. The so-called grade separations cost about $10 million each.
The issue of finances has been of particular importance in Carson, where a large Southern Pacific cargo transfer station has already created new problems for the city.
“Carson has already committed thousands of dollars toward mitigating the adverse impacts,” said Carson Councilwoman Sylvia Muise. “We don’t have enough money to resolve all of them. Therefore, we look to the ports and Southern Pacific to mitigate the problems they create.”
Harwood, the Long Beach councilman, said cities along the corridor are right to expect help paying for the improvements because the authority was created “to funnel money in one direction” instead of dispersing it among communities along three railroad lines.
“What we are pushing for is to forgo improvements on our track, for example, and put the money in the pot to mitigate traffic in a central corridor,” Harwood said. “I think it is a very forward-thinking type of approach.”