Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Jeopardize Federal Transit Funds and Innocent Lives

The economic and social sanctions of disobeying U.S. immigration law is grave.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

For years, the market economy followed by national security has been the most important issue for Americans according to the major polls. That has since shifted to immigration as CBS News released a poll last Thursday showing that problems related to people coming into the USA is now the priority item for President Trump and Congress to solve.

The poll also cites that the economy is in good shape with 61% affirming to 31% saying no; 8% don't know. I predict that Southern California remains an exception simply because the cost of living and the job-to-housing balance here remains out of control.

For the record, CBS reported that the polling was conducted before the Trump administration released an executive order addressing the priority deportation of criminals who are in the country illegally.

The Transit Coalition does not take positions on immigration policy. But if such issues threaten to put the brakes on federal transit funding and jeopardize the lives of people that use the infrastructure, then I will put in my two cents based on existing facts.

Keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution demands that the federal government protect its citizens from foreign attacks. That includes those who come in here illegally with the intention of committing destructive crimes or acts of terror for their personal gain. This includes human trafficking and illegal drug smuggling by the criminal cartel organizations from the southern border. I believe ICE must catch and arrest these people wherever they may be and secure the borders to stop such criminal intrusion from coming into the country. We need to be protected. Unfortunately the press has generally been silent on this point, hence many of us are not even aware of this important factor in this debate.

What the press has not been silent about is the fact that the USA is an immigrant nation with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing opportunity to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and people on the move. Peaceful people who are undocumented are therefore spooked that they too may be deported, hence there is outrage. If this fear does becomes reality and mass deportation of peaceful people do occur, the result would be so morally illicit that I predict such action would be political suicide at the federal level.

In fact, I will submit that the majority of today's 11 million undocumented immigrants would prefer to live and work lawfully in the United States...if they could. That means I believe that immigration laws must be reformed to meet our country's need for the labor that they provide, facilitate the reunification of law-abiding families, and establish a process where they can register to be here legally.

We need to reinstate proven answers such as revisiting guest worker programs and providing a means for peaceful immigrants to reside here lawfully. Also, immigrants fleeing political persecution or social chaos should be able to either seek asylum in the United States, a safe zone within their home country or qualify for refugee status. There has to be an efficient security screening process in place so that terrorists or those causing such persecution are not able to slip through, and that could explain why temporary migration bans are in place from the Middle East so that the U.S. can set up such processes. Again, the media was generally quiet about that factor.

I can go on for days talking about immigration policy, but enough. We need to tackle a key transportation issue which is the threat of the withholding of federal funds should a local jurisdiction decide to disobey U.S. immigration law.

Currently, there are cities within the state and nation that are refusing to cooperate with ICE simply because they oppose Trump's policy on immigration. They provide sanctuary for those living in the country illegally with some reports and hard evidence indicating that they are even harboring criminal immigrants as well.

Although they have the right to oppose the law, write to Congress and challenge such views in court, localities do not have the right to disobey existing immigration policy, especially if it involves arresting, investigating and deporting a criminal to protect the public. Otherwise, they face the grave sanction of losing federal money and that includes transportation funds. Worse yet, innocent U.S. citizens die. That included a man who was robbed and shot down earlier this month by a suspected criminal illegal immigrant while waiting for a Denver light rail train because the local sheriff and mayor refused to cooperate with ICE back in December regarding prior custody of the suspect.

Insubordination to the feds in the name of politics is destructive and damaging to the U.S.A. and the people who use the transit system. This whole situation is very serious. We pay a huge portion of our income to the feds in the form of taxes and we expect that money to come back in the form of public infrastructure, safety and services through the state and local departments and transit agencies. Such money must not be cut off. Law enforcement needs the funds to protect us from criminals and must be able to work with ICE on achieving this.

How can we possibly improve transit mobility and keep our cities safe if local politicians defy federal law and threaten the receipt of federal funds by doing so? As I said, we all have a right and duty to scrutinize U.S. immigration law, lobby for reforms, appeal suspected wrongful ICE actions, and challenge Trump administration policies in court. It's no question immigration law is overdue for change. But we need to obey existing federal law to protect the funding of public services and more importantly innocent lives.

Let's not throw out obedience, transportation and lives with the flawed immigration policy.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Where was the Transit Marketing during the Ortega Highway Closure?

Route 74 reopens after 3 weeks of SoCal freeway gridlock.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director


Southern Californians have to be relieved that the commuter highway linking Lake Elsinore to San Juan Capistrano is now reopened to through-traffic. The good news came about midday Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon, motorists noticed that traffic patterns have greatly improved...from gridlock back to typical congested conditions.

Late in January, Mother Nature dumped so much rain on the Ortega that it destroyed a section of highway east of Rancho Mission Viejo. Caltrans required a project repair time frame of 3 weeks due to the extent of the damage. Okay, fair enough, but because tens of thousands of motorists use the 74 during the rush hour, the shutdown made a mess of the morning commute and created serious Carmageddon gridlock in the afternoon.

For those who had to commute solo by car out of the Irvine Business Complex area of Orange County and back to the IE each day during the p.m. peak congestion...I would like to give these people a medal because I have no clue of how these motorists did it. They had to handle a 2-3 hour commute each afternoon because traffic was not moving anywhere between the job hub and Corona during the course of the closure. Even if they took the 241 Toll Road in an attempt to bypass the standstill 55 freeway, the queue of stopped cars was backed up from before the 241/261/Chapman Avenue junction. Local surface streets and the Corona Foothill corridor were heavy drives as well.

Thankfully, the 91 corridor has Metrolink as an option and I noted that several more commuters were boarding the train because that was the only efficient option to get around all of the congestion. Since ridership demands increased, the question I need to ask is: Where were the extra train and bus departures and transit marketing during this closure?

The viable option to get around this disaster would have been for the state to increase and market emergency expanded Metrolink train service and connecting bus feeders. I posted such a suggestion 3 weeks ago. But the solution didn't happen and motorists were stuck in a jam.

I did not see any billboard ads, freeway alerts or anything along affected roadways advising commuters to take the train to Orange County and use the connecting feeder buses to get to work and back. The state well knows the commuter travel patterns for the Ortega Highway and being the most practical travel option to get around the shutdown, expanded emergency public transportation should have been offered with additional train departures to handle the ridership surge in conjunction with additional express bus departures for the I-15 corridor. Such public marketing does work because both of the prior freeway shutdowns in LA and Corona had expansive literature informing the public of the closures that yielded a positive reaction that didn't result in gridlock and an increase in transit use.

Government officials may want to better prepare for something like this in the future because the Southern California region consists of hills and valleys and shutdowns of key routes like the Ortega will most likely happen again; if such commuter routes are unexpectedly closed for any reason, there needs to be a fallback mass transit option to keep people and commerce moving, especially if it involves high volumes of rush hour commuters.

To summarize: The Ortega is all fixed and reopened. Another storm is expected to come in later tonight. Officials need to have emergency action plans at the ready to make commuters more aware of their travel options and to prevent this type of Carmageddon gridlock from repeating.