City wants in on high-speed rail plan

The monetary hardship a proposed $98-billion high-speed rail project could bring to local transit systems such as the Glendale Beeline should be recognized in a regional plan that is key to unlocking federal and state transportation funds, city officials say.

At a Glendale City Council meeting last week, officials said recognition of that financial impact is missing from the Southern California Assn. of Governments’ draft Regional Transportation Plan through 2035, which encourages local transit operators to improve transportation connections to the planned railway stations.

“We think that should be part of the planning process,” said Public Works Director Steve Zurn.

In order to get federal and state transportation funds, projects must be included in the plan, according to a city report.

Burbank or Glendale may have a stop on the proposed 800-mile high-speed rail system from Sacramento to San Diego, according to the latest map.

Zurn said it looks like the station most likely would be in Burbank due to the proximity to Bob Hope Airport, but even if it wasn’t in Glendale, the city would still aim to enhance its transportation service so local residents could get to the Burbank station.

In a letter to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa noted that local transit operators currently provide key connections to existing commuter and light-rail services using local transit funds, but “any further expansion of these services, although important in improving mobility, will create a hardship on local agencies.”

Last year, the City Council cut some bus service and boosted fares when the Beeline was in a financial pinch.

But Hasan Ikhrata, chief executive officer for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said in an interview this week that high-speed rail’s monetary impact on local transit operators isn’t part of the plan because it’s “too local in nature” and the plan is meant to deal with regional issues.

“We think the impact will be positive,” Ikhrata said of the rail project, which is supposed to run at speeds of up to 220 mph.

Glendale officials also said the transportation plan should promote lower-cost alternatives to the high-speed rail project, such as buses, before the project is constructed. Construction on the initial infrastructure is planned to begin this year in the Central Valley, according to the rail authority’s website.

Councilman Dave Weaver said he was skeptical that money would be available for large-scale projects described in the regional plan.

“We can always hope and pray that money will magically show up,” he said.

He’s not the only skeptic. Many state leaders have complained about the rail project’s costs. But others, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have promoted it as a way to cut down on vehicular traffic using clean energy.

The final draft of the regional plan is due in April.

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