John Perez lives at the southern end of Montebello and says he is tired of being roused in the early morning by the sound of blaring train horns.
Angelica Huerta says she does not appreciate being late to school because a train is blocking traffic and her access to the northern part of the city.
Principal Sterling Shubert said he worries every day about the safety of those who attempt to cross the train tracks near his school.
Now, after 15 years of no action by the city council on how to spend millions of federal dollars to improve goods movement through the region, including traffic bottlenecks caused by trains traveling through the city, relief may be on the way.
Montebello’s City Council last week voted 4-1 to approve the “quiet corridor” grade separation alternative for the southern portion of the city. Councilman Bill Molinari, saying he wanted to delay the vote for 30 days so the city’s police and fire departments could study and weigh in on the issue, cast the dissenting vote. His request was denied.
“…Montebello has suffered the troubles of growing train traffic for far too long,” said Mayor Jack Hadjinian. “It is time to put aside divisiveness.”
Molinari, the only member of the council who lives south of the train tracks, pressed on, saying such a major project warrants further analysis. “I have been involved with this project since the inception,” Molinari snapped back.
“And nothing got done,” Hadjinian responded under his breath.
Created by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority (ACE) was charged with building grade separations in 20 cities in the region, at the busiest train crossings.
ACE originally allocated $91 million for projects in Montebello, but city officials demanded the agency spend $360 million to build a single one-mile trench, which the agency rebuked. The agency had $910 million to build the entire project for the region.
In the ensuing years, the cost for the trench grew to $1 billion and the pool of funds available to Montebello shrank as ACE built projects approved by other cities, according the agency.
The project approved by the council calls for underpasses to be built on Montebello Boulevard – the city’s busiest street – and Maple Avenue, located adjacent to the Applied Technology Center high school. In addition, four quad gates will be installed at Greenwood and Vail Avenue resulting in a quiet zone where routine horn blowing would be banned.
Montebello Unified Board President Edgar Cisneros called the decision “long overdue.”
A majority of the council agreed that at $140 million the alternative was the most financially feasible way to address issues of traffic, noise and geographical splitting of the city into north and south sections. More importantly, they said the changes would address safety concerns related to trains and vehicle traffic not being separated.
Three-dozen or so people testified during the nearly three hour-long meeting, with many of them expressing frustration that the council has taken so long to act.
“I’ve been waiting for Montebello to grow up and do something,” said resident Steve Hernandez before the vote. “Make a decision and own it, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s for history to decide.”
Most speakers expressed support for the quiet corridor; one resident speculated property values would increase if the area is designated a quiet zone.
When completed, it will be the largest infrastructure construction project in city history.
Pat Owens, representing a group of area electricians, said the project would bring good paying construction jobs to the city. “This is a golden opportunity to put those laid off to work,” she told the council.
Others said the project would go a long way to solving safety concerns.
“What happened in Ventura could very easily happen in the city of Montebello,” said Linda Nicklas, referring to the recent fatal Metrolink train crash with an unattended truck left on the tracks.
But not everyone supported the approved alternative. Montebello Chamber of Commerce President Pam Wilkinson said the chamber supports building an underpass on Montebello Boulevard but not on Maple Avenue because it would require the removal of seven residential and two business properties.
“They basically want to use eminent domain” to take our property, said Ray Broguiere of Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy, in the area for 95 years. “It’s not an acquisition, it’s not a take, it’s a land grab!”
There is nothing in writing that guarantees his business will be fairly relocated, he said.
“You have my word that your interest will be protected,” responded the mayor. “I’m not one to shut down a business.”
ACE Executive Director Mark Christoffels said this would be the last project constructed by the agency, which is scheduled to shut down in 2018.
“Any delay of this project would cut funding,” warned Hadjinian. “If this project is in jeopardy and we lose it, Montebello folks paid for an underpass in another city.”
For resident Larry Salazar, the quiet corridor alternative is a form of settling.
“I’m told that getting something is better than nothing,” he said. “Really? Has that become the motto of the city of Montebello?”
“Are we supposed to settle for whatever we can get whether it solves the problem or not?”
Molinari also expressed his distaste for the allocated funding being labeled by many of the speakers as a “gift to the city.”
“To my knowledge the government doesn’t generate revenue, those funds are taxpayer’s money,” he said.
ACE is expected to present designs for the project sometime next year and construction could start as early as 2017. Christoffels said construction could last three to four years.
“Three years is a long time but it does not compare to 15 years,” said Hadjinian, raising applause from the audience. “You keep waiting on this and you can kiss that money goodbye.”