Airport prepares legal battle against railroad

Bob Hope Airport officials are ready to go to court to get access to Union Pacific Railroad land for environmental testing on a plot near the $120-million transit center.

Discussions between the two parties have slowed to a crawl as airport officials work to determine the extent of soil contamination near the planned location of a new transit center, which will bring together commuter trains, bus service and rental car facilities for passengers using Bob Hope.

Airport officials are in talks to acquire the land to use as parking for the new center, connected by a pedestrian bridge over Empire Avenue.

On Monday, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority voted unanimously to ask a judge for an order of entry, which would allow airport environmental engineers to test the soil on Union Pacific land off Empire Avenue between Hollywood Way and Clybourn Avenue.

The decision came after Mike Yoshiba, an attorney for the airport, told the board that discussions with Union Pacific had stalled.

Airport spokesman Victor Gill said negotiations are not yet at an impasse, but added: “We have met and conferred with them, and we don’t know anything about their real negotiating position.”

The soil testing is related to the airport’s planned $120-million Regional Intermodal Transportation Center, which will be built near the train tracks. Construction is expected to start later this year.

The 2.7 acres Union Pacific owns near the tracks is used by RVs, truckers and commuters for unrestricted parking.

“Right now, the site is kind of open for squatters,” Gill said. Union Pacific, he added, “chooses not to tend to the property.”

The airport plans to buy the 2.7-acre strip and upgrade it for use as parking by travelers and commuters tapping the transit center’s proximity to buses, Amtrak trains, Metrolink and possible high-speed-rail service.

A pedestrian bridge over Empire Avenue would connect the transit center and the train station.

Gill said the airport may use eminent domain to acquire the parcel if necessary. In order for the airport to get court approval for the entry order, officials must prove gaining access is “necessary and reasonably related to a potential acquisition by eminent domain,” Gill added.

Negotiators were making progress with Union Pacific in January, but communication came to a halt a month later when the airport was informed that the railroad’s legal department had taken over the decision-making process, according to a report to the authority.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said the railroad plans to continue discussions.

“Our focus, first and foremost, is protecting our ability to operate Union Pacific freight trains safely and efficiently,” Hunt said in an email. “I cannot speculate on whether or not an agreement will eventually be reached to sell any property.”

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