Four years ago, The Transit Coalition took note that a local group in the Highgrove area situated in between Grand Terrace and Riverside has been advocating for a Metrolink train station to call its own. Transit advocate R.A. "Barney" Barnett has been the voice of such work by networking with almost every Inland Empire politician in the book. The truth is the Riverside County Transportation Commission concluded numerous times that a proposed station in Highgrove along the main BNSF rail corridor near the Perris Valley Line branch is not feasible to build now with public taxpayer money. The Press Enterprise ran an in-depth special report on this campaign which was featured on the front page of the Local news section of the paper on Thursday. With the press coverage, many citizens in the Inland Empire are now aware this debate.
In September of 2009, we contacted Mr. Barnett to explore a station concept for the region, given combined support from the neighboring cities of Grand Terrace and Loma Linda back then. We have found that it was within our interest and mission to do so simply because Highgrove is part of the Inland Empire. At present, Mr. Barnet has a specific location in mind which is undeveloped property located off of Villa Street, a few blocks east of Iowa Avenue. Mr. Barnet's spot is also the very location where the Perris Valley Line splits off from the BNSF rail line. In contrast, RCTC has approved and broken ground on a Metrolink station in the Hunter Business Park area, located along the Perris Valley Line branch a few blocks south of Highgrove itself and just east of the Iowa Avenue commercial corridor.
We networked with Mr. Barnet in 2009 and he is very passionate of getting an intermediate train station built along the BNSF rail corridor in between Riverside and San Bernardino simply because more trains operate along this route instead of the Perris Valley Line branch. He is a nice community-oriented individual who has massive experience in the freight railroad industry and knows well about Highgrove's local history. Shortly after we spoke with Mr. Barnet, we conducted a field study of the area and met with RCTC Executive Anne Mayer to discuss getting Metrolink into Highgrove. We and RCTC found that Mr. Barnet's specific location idea of a Metrolink train station simply would not work as one of the platforms would need to be placed along a very sharp curve which is out of the question simply due to safety. RCTC also concluded that Mr. Barnet's location would be lightly used given Highgrove's small population and current soft economic state. It was therefore decided to develop the region's station south of Highgrove at Hunter Park.
It's all about getting trains to stop in central Highgrove
RCTC's final Perris Valley Line plans are not stopping Barnet. He is fixed into to getting the trains to stop in Highgrove along the BNSF main line even if that means obstructing Perris Valley Line construction. It would be foolish and wrong to further obstruct this Metrolink extension, but Barnet's mission to improve Highgrove's mobility also cannot be ignored.
The solution is a bit confusing, but here it is: Give the people of Highgrove what they need wrapped up in what Barnet wants. Some facts:
- Highgrove's population is about 4,000 according to the 2010 Census Bureau. Grand Terrace's population is just more than 12,000.
- Highgrove is an intermediate population center situated between Riverside and San Bernardino, just south of Grand Terrace.
- The commercial corridor linking Riverside to Grand Terrace via Highgrove use these roads: University Avenue, Iowa Avenue, La Cadena Drive, and Barton Road.
- The Hunter Park Station is less than a few blocks east of Iowa Avenue.
- Based on our field study, the state of the economy through this region is very soft and thus it would be better at present to space Metrolink stations further apart.
- Regional rail stations spaced closer together can function efficiently through dense and economically robust areas. The Metrolink San Bernardino Line is an example.
The reality is that under the current economic climate, population demographics, and constrained public transit resources, neither a Metrolink train station at Villa Street and Iowa Avenue nor a station along the BNSF rail line can be a part of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line project. Highgrove's station for the Metrolink extension will have to be the Hunter Park Station for now. Again, it is clearly wrong for anybody to obstruct the construction process.
To be fair to Barnet, the central area of Highgrove still needs its share of productive transit alternatives and the opportunity to be a better affluent area. It cannot be excluded from transit improvements.
For now, there are legit improvements that can and should happen. 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. Better timing this line with downtown Metrolink trains is a sound executable short-to-mid term alternative combined with ensuring Route 14's streetside bus stops are equipped with benches and shelters. That will link Highgrove with every Metrolink train that passes through Riverside downtown.
Central Highgrove Train Station clearly out of Perris Valley Line project, but not forever.
If the private sector is inclined through tax incentives and/or proper land use zoning to invest in smart growth development and marketplace jobs into the commercial corridor linking Riverside, Highgrove, Grand Terrace, and Loma Linda with such developer funds paying for future transit infrastructure, the idea of getting intermediate train stations, transit centers, better bus stops, and complete streets built along the BNSF mainline between Riverside and San Bernardino will be possible. Better yet, it would be completely paid for and built by private sector developers. Hence, the public funding issue raised by RCTC would be out of the question. One such station stop could very well be in central Highgrove. Thus, Highgrove would attain what it needed wrapped in something that Mr. Barnet wanted for the past decade.
Mr. Barnet has a strong knowledge of Highgrove's history and has a powerful voice of what gets decided there locally. If this population center can become a true destination, Metrolink and future private sector trains may very well stop there.