Montebello City Council To Consider Full Trench Resolution
A townhall on grade separation of the Alameda Corridor railroad tracks in Montebello is set for Feb. 24
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer
The Montebello City Council came to some consensus at a recent council meeting over a grade separation project to alleviate traffic, safety and environmental issues associated with the Union Pacific railroad tracks, but the final outcome of the debate surrounding it remains to be seen.
Councilman Bill Molinari believes the city should be pushing the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority, ACE, much harder to get tracks running through the entire city lowered into a trench. He asked fellow council members at the Jan. 26 council meeting to take a stand by committing to that option as a priority.
While the council voted unanimously to bring a resolution back for discussion on the issue at a later date, they still have some fundamental disagreements about the likelihood of a full trench project.
Molinari’s request came after U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) personally attended the Jan. 12 city council meeting and told the council that lowering the railroad tracks through the entire city is just not possible given the lack of funding and the political climate at the federal level. “I’d love to have it for you too, but it’s not going to be feasible,” she said.
She said the city might lose out if it holds out for a full trench version of the project. “We need something there in Montebello. It would be a failure if the money goes to another city,” she said.
But the Montebello community has long spoken overwhelmingly in favor of lowering the train tracks through the city, an option that would have the least impact on Montebello businesses and residents, and say that officials are settling for a lesser project and not fighting hard enough for what they want.
Michael Scipione, president of a local homeowners association, said he prefers the full trench option. “I’m not afraid of not getting anything. Something is not better than nothing,” he said.
Meanwhile businesswoman Noretta Morales of Foreign Affairs Auto Repair is fearful of the impact those projects could have on her business. “This is business, and it’s people’s homes, their property values and it’s the same story all over again, just with new faces,” she said, referring to the first time ACE proposed grade separation projects in 2000.
“Listen to the people of your community and do what’s best for your community,” she told the council.
Molinari’s stance, while popular with the public, has not been well received by some fellow city council members who feel he is being divisive by being seemingly unwilling to consider any option other than the full trench.
Others on council are asking that the city look at less expensive measures such as only lowering the tracks through part of the city. The partial lowering option would go through Montebello and Greenwood Boulevards, while the tracks will remain street level on Vail and Maple Avenues.
Other options include diverting street traffic when a train goes by, creating an underpass so street traffic can go below the existing railroad tracks, and constructing a flyover to take street traffic over the tracks.
A full trench project would cost $363 million, according to Mayor Pro Tem Frank Gomez, who sits on the ACE board with representatives from other cities impacted by the railroad tracks.
“ACE has approximately $300 million in MTA Measure R funds to finish six projects, one of which is the Montebello project,” he said. “This is not enough money to finish all of the projects. Furthermore this is less than the cost of the [full] railroad lowering [in Montebello] alone.”
He said the ACE board does not just represent Montebello, but rather a coalition of 12 cities. He said a full trench is being built in San Gabriel, not because of preferential treatment, but because the historical status of the streets there made it absolutely necessary.
Gomez has said it would be “tragic” if Montebello lost out on funding to do any project at all. It lost out on funding in 2000 when the projects were first proposed, and he fears with ACE expected to dissolve in a couple of year, the city may lose out forever.
Gomez said it is not likely that Union Pacific Railroad would put up any money for the trenching, a funding option Molinari has suggested in the past.
Union Pacific has final say about the projects and may not have an interest in doing a full trench, according to Gomez. “None of these options have been presented to Union Pacific. UP may not accept the project due to significant risk to their operations throughout construction…” he said.
He added if the city were to insist on a full trench it must also think about how it would pay for the maintenance and repair of the trench through “perpetuity.”
Molinari defended himself against accusations that he is being divisive. He said ACE has been disingenuous, potentially inflating the cost estimate for the full trench option.
While other project cost estimates have gone up only 25 percent since 2000 when they were first proposed, the cost estimate for the full trench project has gone up as much as 50 percent, Molinari said.
As part of Molinari’s proposed resolution, which is expected to come back to the city council, the city might at some point decide to do an independent financial engineering analysis to make sure the cost is accurate.
Councilman Alberto Perez agreed with this provision, saying, “the numbers do change quite a bit.”
Gomez said his job as a leader is to keep an open mind about the potential grade separation project. “The ACE will never… shove down the throat of the people of Montebello any bridge, tunnel, overpass, underpass what have you, whatever you want to call it, that this council with the agreement of the community does not want,” he said.
Mayor Art Barajas who lives south of the train tracks and must cross them “six times to a dozen times a day,” said he would be “worried in the sense of not getting anything.” He also asked that Molinari and the community take a look at the other options.
Several council members emphasized that the council as a whole has already rejected an underpass, also known as the tunnel, option on Montebello Boulevard, even though it keeps getting brought up.
ACE will be holding a town hall meeting on the different project options for Montebello on Feb. 24, at 5:30 p.m.in the Montebello Senior Citizens Center.Print This Post
February 3, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.