SBCTA committee recommends formal opposition to proposed West County Rail Construction Authority
February 12, 2020 — The SBCTA Policy Committee is recommending that the voter-entrusted agency responsible for transportation planning in San Bernardino County oppose the creation of an entirely new construction authority specifically geared toward one project.
SBCTA (the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority) is mandated by law to handle and oversee cooperative regional planning and further an efficient multimodal transportation system countywide. On Wednesday, the agency’s General Policy Committee voted to recommend that SBCTA’s Board of Directors oppose a bill by Assemblymember Chris Holden to establish the West San Bernardino County Rail Construction Authority, whose sole purpose would be to build a six-mile extension of the Gold Line light rail system from the Los Angeles County line to Ontario International Airport.
The committee also recommended that the Board formally invite Holden to discuss his proposal at the March meeting of the full SBCTA Board.
“We appreciate the Assemblymember’s desire to bring the Gold Line to San Bernardino County, and would welcome connectivity from LA County as part of a comprehensive package of enhanced transit opportunities not just to and from Ontario Airport but our county as a whole. On the surface, however, this legislation raises many more concerns than it addresses – most notably, how would such a project be paid for, who would benefit from it and what other projects throughout the county would have to be eliminated to make way for it?” said Darcy McNaboe, SBCTA’s President.
San Bernardino County is the largest geographic county in the United States, and represents one of the most vibrant growth corridors in the United States. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) projects that San Bernardino County will see its population surge by 32% in the next 25 years, versus 19% for SoCal as a whole.
The county’s growth is being fueled by a variety of factors, including growing job prospects and relative affordability. According to a new report from Zillow, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties rank fourth in the U.S. in terms of property searches from prospective homebuyers living outside the region.
Ontario Airport, meanwhile, was recently ranked the fastest-growing airport in the U.S. for the second straight year. Statistics show that nearly 70% of domestic passengers using Ontario Airport live in the Inland Empire and would not be served by a light rail system geared toward L.A. County users. Over the past two years, SBCTA has worked closely with ONT officials to form the Ontario Airport Roundtable, a network of stakeholders throughout the county focused on issues such as airport access.
“San Bernardino and the Inland Empire are fast becoming the population and employment hubs for Southern California. That’s great news, but requires an even more thoughtful and balanced approach to transportation planning. Creating a whole new agency with a single-minded focus doesn’t lend itself to the kind of shared visioning and broad collaboration we need to address our challenges,” said Paul Granillo, CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and an Ontario Airport Roundtable member. “The fact is, there is a limited amount of money available for transportation, and we need to work together – not in competition with one another – to address the growing needs we’ve got throughout our county.”
Assemblymember Holden’s plan does not directly address how an extension of the Gold Line to Ontario Airport would be funded. Typically, the cost for such a project is borne by local taxpayers – in this case, the taxpayers of San Bernardino County once the project crosses the LA County Line.
In recent months, SBCTA has been developing a plan that would enhance Metrolink’s existing San Bernardino Line with improved connectivity to ONT. The plan would leverage the Redlands Rail Project, currently under construction, and the zero-emission passenger trains that will be part of that project. The hydrogen-powered trains will be the first of their kind in North America.
“This is not an either-or – at least it shouldn’t be. We’re interested in discussing with Assemblymember Holden about how his plan benefits the majority of airport users who currently travel from San Bernardino and Riverside Counties,” McNaboe said.