Friday, May 9, 2014

Debating a future train depot in central Highgrove

Difficult, but not impossible: It won't be part of the Perris Valley Line, but a robust market economy, destinations, and private sector smart growth developer investments may be what it takes to get R.A. Barnett's dream of a central Highgrove train station a reality in the future.
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com

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.

Smart Growth: Economic job development like this can transform Highgrove's sleepy Iowa Avenue into a real destination and robust commercial street. Developers and investors would be given tax incentives to construct and pay for a future Highgrove Train Station as part of the three-to-five story street-side transit-oriented development.
© Wikimedia/FacelessB CC-BY-SA
The Coalition will continue to explore solutions into establishing direct rail service for the people of this area. In the long term, establishing one or more intermediate train stations along the BNSF rail corridor should be explored and be integrated into future growth. Highgrove's local economy certainly needs to be in a much better shape to sustain this.

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.

4 comments:

  1. Let's be optimistic. Mr. Barnett's dream should be readily achieved within the decade at the latest, especially if a private group stepped forward to build the actual station. As for operations, that's where things really get exciting and offers the IE a chance to really set itself apart as not just a bedroom offshoot of LA/OC, but an entire region of promise. The PV Extension of Metrolink likely will not be able to stop at a Highgrove stop. However, the possibility of a CV and the IEOC lines collecting there is great. But a third possibility for connection also exists and might even be the key to getting the whole thing up and running quicker: using Redlands Rail. While it likely isn't economically feasible to run full train sets, DMUs could provide a workable option. An ideal routing would start in Redlands, making stops along the entire Redlands Rail route, continue through the SB Transit Center and Santa Fe Depot, then go south through the BNSF yard to Highgrove (with a stop at a future possible south Colton station), finishing off by taking the PV Line and those stations. Cars could leave at similar times from either end for that run. That routing would serve a critical unfilled gap in the IE transit scene: good connection between the eastern San Bernardino Valley and the Temecula Valley. (Conceivably, folks from the western end of the SB Valley could catch a Metrolink east then transfer to a RR-PV DMU at the San Bernardino station.) Along with connection from a LA-Coachella Line running through Loma Linda/S. Redlands, the "need" to widen San Tim and Reche Canyon/reopen Pigeon Pass can be staved off for awhile longer and at a fraction of the cost of constructing them.

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    1. Those are good ideas should the whole corridor experience such smart economic growth and Route 14's demands increase to the point where such rapid transit will be needed. As we've mentioned, PVL has a stop at Hunter Park which will serve the Highgrove area just to the south of town. RCTC made the correct choice as that is the smart short-range thing to do combined with improving the transfer connections at the downtown station with RTA Route 14 which runs through Highgrove.

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  2. We're talking about a town of 4,000 people. The kind of density and zoning reforms necessary to create a real mixed-use, transit-oriented development around Mr. Barnett's station would be pretty massive, and would probably double the size of the town. If such a project could be constructed, it'd be a great thing, but I sincerely doubt that kind of rapid growth and densification is on even the medium-term horizon for Highgrove. I think you'll see that sort of development happen in existing centers, like downtown Riverside and Arlington Village, before you see it in Highgrove or Grand Terrace.

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    1. Valid predictions and yes, such transit-oriented development along Iowa Avenue through central Highgrove will certainly increase its population and economic activity. Regarding your point of smart growth economic development occurring in Downtown and Arlington Village versus Highgrove and Grand Terrace, both regions have their own unique features which can entice capital investments. Riverside, as you mentioned, is clearly more populated and developed and houses numerous government services; it can better support higher-density development and taller structures. The latter region has more affordable land and some good agricultural history. It will likely support smaller transit-oriented structures, found in many central cities in the San Gabriel Valley. Integrating this history or other location-unique feature into future development may be very necessary in order to mark this area as a Southern California destination. Think of Riverside and San Bernardino as being the key urban centers for the Inland Empire, where Highgrove and Grand Terrace mimic development now found in places like downtown San Dimas, central Upland or Old Town Temecula.

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