Friday, August 21, 2015

The World Logistics Center debate has only started

Moreno Valley green-lights an expansion in middle class jobs. Good. But will the legit pollution and traffic issues be addressed too?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

By a 3-2 margin, the Morneno Valley City Council voted to approve developer Iddo Benzeevi's proposed World Logistics Center complex in east Moreno Valley. Word of the approval was spread all over the media. The Press Enterprise ran full front-page coverage in Friday's newspaper. It may appear that this discussion is now closed, but not so.

Despite this milestone event, the World Logistics Center debate is far from over. Legit red flags stemming from the project include truck pollution and the need to expand transportation infrastructure. Despite these problems, the city green-lighted the project. Plus, there were some local issues brought up regarding the city's public works infrastructure in relation with the general land use plan change.

The opposition has promised to take this case to court.

The Transit Coalition has also taken a "no" position on WLC because of these issues, but I must make it very clear that I do agree that Moreno Valley badly needs this economic growth opportunity that Benzeevi has to offer.

What would be the net job growth be for the region? Benzeevi says 20,000 or something like that and 13,000 construction positions. That's if tenants do rent out the units within the development and staff the warehouses and delivery routes.

Yes, we're not seeing a Silicon Valley or Irvine Business Complex clone as opponents correctly point, but the hard-working middle class will stand to benefit from this investment if the logistics jobs do materialize. We are long overdue for a renaissance of the middle class where those who choose to work hard can make a decent wage with only a high school diploma, entry-level work experience, and truck driving training. Procurement, goods movement, and truck driving jobs can fulfill this. The PE editorialized the WLC as a "Victory for Moreno Valley."

Whatever the final job numbers will be once everything is built out, a logistics job hub in the Valley "Where dreams soar" can help rebuild the American middle class with the blue collar job expansion. While there is some valid debate over the current conditions of these jobs now, supply-and-demand economics teaches that robust job competition and more opportunities will force employers into taking better care of their workers simply because they will need to retain them as logistics demands increase. Increased jobs can force employers into improving benefits in order to de-incentivize productive team members from applying at a competitor.

One long overdue benefit is allowing cross-country truck drivers to spend more time with their families when they return home and improving the lodging conditions, social gathering areas, and mobile amenities at driver rest stops. Unlimited live video streaming and phone calls to/from home would be paid for so that drivers can network with their families at the break stops for the night. A strong job market can incentivize such investments for driver retention. More on this at a later time.

Graphite Business Park job hub in Corona
However, as I said, the intense WLC discussions, negotiations, and debates will continue. The "public hearings" have only started. The next chapter will likely involve what happens in court.

Benzeevi wants to invest in improving truck jobs here at home. Good. But now, the situation now deals with holding Benzeevi to account on the promise that the trucks will be cleaner so that WLC won't be a pollutant. The state must be held accountable to ensure that the extra transportation and truck vehicle weight tax revenue raised from WLC will go toward improving transit mobility in the area. Plus, if any local pandering is to be found and proven beyond a reasonable doubt, citizens need to hold their power structure to account with the power of the ballot.

While Benzeevi agreed to construct and improve local transportation infrastructure in and around the master plan, regional connectors must also be addressed. Consensus was "regional agencies should contribute more for projects in Moreno Valley" according to a PE report. That's were the state government needs to be held accountable.

Regional improvements could include the extension of the SR-60 carpool lane to the I-10 in addition with the proposed truck lanes and expanded services for bus routes 35, 210 and 220 that would use the HOV transit infrastructure. The combined freeway express services should be expanded to 15 minute headways during rush hour and 30 minutes at other times. The carpool lane usage policy could also be set up in a way that allows solo drivers to use the added lane for a toll if upgrade money falls short, but the state would be held to account of ensuring the extra transportation tax money goes to the infrastructure and expanded bus transit service.

Moving forward, WLC may be approved, but discussion to get Moreno Valley a first-rate middle class job hub, clean air, and transit mobility has only begun.

We'll see what takes place in court.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Discussing Development Projects in the Inland Empire

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The debates and discussion over two major development projects continue. On Monday, The Press Enterprise ran a front page article updating the public of the construction process of the Perris Valley Line which drew some really good reader responses. In Moreno Valley, the city council continues to hold hearings over the massive World Logistics Center project. The public debate for both has overall been robust and productive.

World Logistics Center Hearings

As we're all likely well aware, developer Iddo Benzeevi is moving forward with a massive proposed master plan to develop a 40.6 million square foot warehouse complex in east Moreno Valley. Blue collar Job expansion and economic opportunities would be the chief benefits. Traffic, air quality, and land use impacts are the primary concerns.

The supporting arguments both for and against the complex plan are very legit and fact-based. Currently, The Transit Coalition opposes the project until the issues raised by Caltrans, RCTC, and the California Air Resources Board are addressed. The concerns raised by the governing bodies need to be dealt with fairly and impartially so that common ground can be reached between the two sides. Don't get me wrong, I want Mr. Benzeevi to invest his money into the Inland Empire and big-rig trucks are getting cleaner. Moreno Valley could use a good economic stimulus from the logistics sector, but the good people living there need to breathe clean air and be able to get around.

We need a master plan that is straight and fair.

In June, I weighed in on the discussion. My thesis is don't throw out the blue collar job expansion with the pollution and traffic congestion.

Metrolink Perris Valley Line Construction News

PE Staff Writer David Downey's report of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line made its way to the front page of the newspaper Monday. One interesting point that was brought up were the predicted travel times.

Metrolink Communications Representative Leslie Mylius told the PE that a trip between Perris and Fullerton would be about an hour and 45 minutes with and end-to-end trip time of 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach Los Angeles Union Station, which can sound pretty excessive for a commute. But keep in mind that getting from LA into the Perris and Southwest regions during the afternoon rush hour on a Friday can last in excess of 3 hours on the freeway.
Proposed: Run-through tracks at LA Union Station
Graphic: LA Metro

Also, the reason for the 45 minute turn from Fullerton to LA is the lack of run-through track infrastructure at LAUS. Trains from the south have to loop around to the northern end of the station. It takes about 30 minutes to train between LAUS and Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs and about 20 minutes from Commerce to LAUS. The Transit Coalition supports the development of run-through tracks which would certainly shave off a significant portion of the travel trip time. I predict about 10 minutes. Plus, separated grades could clear the the way for the trains to travel at faster speeds along the straighter portions of the route.

At the bottom of the online version of the article, several readers engaged in some good discussion. "Public hearings" of the Perris Valley Line never close here and the stone-cold fact is transportation infrastructure improvements is an ongoing project. It's good to hear the public speak out even though construction is well underway.

The sbX passes by the soon-to-be Metrolink First Mile Extension
For example, one reader suggested that there should be some PVL trips that terminate in San Bernardino. I really don't see anything wrong with that idea. The Riverside Transit Agency found that travel demands were high between Moreno Valley and San Bernardino; so a direct rail connection could very well work. RCTC owns the PVL right of way which means minimal interference with freight trains.

I would go one step further. This conceptual segment should be paired with both Metrolink Max (30 minute all-day headways) and corridor-based routes by having every other trip of the San Bernardnio Line continue to Perris with a turnaround and short layover at the San Bernardino Transit Center. The other trips can continue via the Redlands branch if the proposed rail project uses Metrolink regional rail infrastructure in lieu of DMU. If the San Bernardino Line operated every 30 minutes, that would allow for hourly train departures for both branches and the increased station pairs would generate the necessary ridership for passengers passing through San Bernardino. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Inland Empire Transit Briefing: Ontario Airport, High Speed Rail and More...

Ontario Airport

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

As the kids go back to school, many politicians are just beginning their vacations as several governing bodies and boards traditionally go dark in August. However, there's quite a bit of important stories happening in the transportation realm.

Local Control of Ontario Airport

The major transportation story that's happening right now is the ownership transfer agreement of the Ontario International Airport from Los Angeles to Ontario. Both parties of this intense negotiation agreed to a settlement price tag of $190 million according to the Press Enterprise

There's still quite a bit of work and details to be done regarding this transfer as the actual date the deed gets turned over to Ontario is planned to be October of 2016. I predict there will be more smaller-item negotiations and decision making ahead but the overall ownership change would mean tremendous opportunities for the Inland Empire. If the City of Ontario does fulfil its promise to improve the airport infrastructure and usage policies so that airlines can better invest in additional flights and grow competition, expect economic growth, more services, potentially lower prices, more jobs in and around the airport, and fewer Inland motorists having to trek all the way to LAX and jam the 91, 60 and I-10 freeways into West LA.

I'll keep a close watch on this story. Getting airline services closer to home can certainly get Southern California moving.

San Bernardino International Airpot - SBD

Let's not forget that the Inland Empire does have another international airport which is certainly long overdue for private investments from the airlines: San Bernardino International.

The San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA) comprises the County of San Bernardino and the Cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland. It has recently launched the "Let San Bernardino Takeoff" Facebook page in an effort to draw new service.

Safety along Southbound I-15

In Lake Elsinore, motorists have noticed that construction crews broke ground to improve the safety of the southbound I-15 at Railroad Canyon Road by constructing an auxiliary lane from the exit. During the afternoon rush hour, floods of cars use the exit and traffic can spill over onto the freeway.

What is very interesting about this exit is prior to the start of construction, motorists were already making use of the former wide shoulder and used it as a virtual exit lane which partially offset the safety hazard of stopped cars along a 70 MPH freeway lane. Now this virtual lane will soon be a real, legal auxiliary lane.

The City of Lake Elsinore is spearheading this project and has more infrastructure upgrades planned for this interchange area.

The concern I have is why hasn't ground been broken yet on the Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange project which the existing infrastructure has a far-worse hazard than at Railroad Canyon Road? Why is it not funded and cleared? Like Railroad Canyon, long lines of cars spill over onto the southbound side of the main freeway lanes in this area except the queue does back up into the far right general purpose lane during the afternoon rush hour, many weekends, and whenever special events occur at the Pechanga Resort. Due to this safety hazard, this has been the site of numerous fender-benders given the lack of warnings, some of them involving injuries.

Lake Elsinore was able to fund and quickly start building an I-15 exit lane for safety's sake. Why can't the same be done for this segment of the Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange?

Moving Forward with High Speed Rail

The Transit Coalition is building a new campaign project for high speed rail. The technology has been proven worldwide to be an efficient means to move people quickly beyond a reasonable doubt. We aim to ensure that valid concerns about the future of the statewide project are addressed without throwing out the technology with the legit issues. Lots of divisive spin is being put out there and our goal is to show that high speed intercity transit infrastructure can work for California. We need to find some common ground on this project, spend the voter-approved seed money wisely, get the routes shovel-ready, and allow the private sector to invest, fund, and build the rest of the system. Back east, Amtrak's Acela Express has shown the technology can turn a profit which would incentivize private investments.

We appreciate you following us. Talk to you next week.