Monday, October 21, 2013

Productive Transit Growth for Highgrove

Four years ago, during the fall of 2009, The Transit Coalition noted a local group in the Highgrove area advocating for a Metrolink train station for their community. Highgrove is a small unincorporated region located between Riverside and Grand Terrace. The local group specifically envisions a station to be placed along the main rail line between San Bernardino and Riverside, not along the Perris Valley Line branch where it is currently proposed at Riverside's Hunter Park. To this day, proponents continue to advocate for a Highgrove Metrolink station. Back then, we engaged the group and promised to take a fresh look into the idea. This 2009 conceptual future vision of the area shows a robust Highgrove Metrolink station combined with infill new urbanism. Such a concept would require a robust economy and coordination between the County of Riverside, the City of Riverside, local transportation officials, the state and the private sector. We shared this idea with the local group and it was forwarded to top officials and the Riverside County Transportation Commission on their behalf. The debate and facts leaned toward the "no" side for now.

On the surface, the idea may be noble and the fact that the community is actively engaging in a robust debate of the matter is productive. The reality is that under the current economic and political climate, the Highgrove station simply cannot be a part of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line project. During our 2009 field study, we checked out the area and spoke with top officials with the RCTC. The local economy is pretty light in the area which would lead to an issue of light ridership projections according to RCTC. Yes, there is a business park and a small logistics hub a few blocks south of Highgrove in the City of Riverside; that's where the Hunter Park station is proposed. However, just to the southwest of this Riverside job hub is the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station. RCTC officials also studied this area multiple times and concluded likewise.

For now, the good folks in Highgrove do have some productive transit alternatives to bring into the public arena of debate. As mentioned, the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station is less than five miles to the southwest. It is about a 15-20 minute bus ride away via RTA Route 14. Establishing the RTA transit hub in this area has long been advocated by the Coalition which can serve as a productive alternative combined with better timing the buses with trains. That would be a good short-to-mid term alternative with the current demographics and economic conditions.

In the long term, establishing one or more intermediate train stations a few miles to the north in the Grand Terrace or Colton area is also a debatable alternative since they would be better spaced apart from the two county seat stations. The local economy certainly needs to be in a better shape to sustain this and should be a part of long range plans. If the private sector pours in some capital into the Highgrove, Grand Terrance, and Colton areas with developer funds paying for the transit infrastructure, the idea of getting one or more intermediate train stations and transit centers built along the mainline between Riverside and San Bernardino can be revisited and included in long range plans. That's productive transit growth for Highgrove.

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