Montebello Rail Meeting Gets Tense
14-year delay raises ire of residents at meeting.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Montebello residents grew impatient last week during an open house meeting on a controversial railway project that has been “on the books” for more than a decade.
A city contractor hired to review the city’s options for upgrades to address traffic congestion, safety and noise issues related to the Union Pacific railroad tracks on Montebello’s southside, got an earful from residents and business owners who blamed city leaders for the 14-year delay getting the project started.
In 2000, Montebello rejected a $90 million plan proposed by the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority, which holds the purse strings to the project, to build an underpass on Montebello Boulevard. City officials claimed Montebello was being offered second-rate upgrades, and told ACE they wanted overpasses built at Greenwood, Vail, Maple as well as Montebello, which at the time would have cost $360 million, but over a $1 billion today.
Juan M. Cruz, president of JMD – the engineering firm hired by the city – presented the costs and impacts associated with each of the seven alternatives being considered.
“For me it’s about noise, safety and mobility,” said Cruz during the June 12 meeting, one of four such meetings held last week.
Applied Technology Center Principal Sterling Shubert said he was concerned that data used in preparing the alternatives was outdated, and did not take note of his school, which opened three years ago adjacent to the tracks. Shubert pointed out that a large number of students, on foot and in cars, now frequent the area.
“We just want to point out that there are students there, as you construct things you have to think about us,” added one of the students at the meeting advocating for an underpass to be built on Maple Avenue.
The seven alternatives, each with a different cost and impact on property, include three underpass (bridge) options, on Greenwood and Maple Avenues and Montebello Boulevard; three trench options, (below grade and different lengths) and a sealed corridor (closing of streets). The least expensive of the options is a $59.5 million underpass at Maple Avenue. The most expensive is the $1.01 billion Long Trench Option, which would require relocating the Metrolink station and for ACE to acquire 5 residential and 42 business properties.
Noting that ACE is scheduled to shut down operations by 2018, Cruz said Montebello is facing a tight deadline for making a decision.
“This I think is your last chance,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to have to much time to decide a future grade separation…this is it.”
ACE represents a coalition of 12 cities including Montebello, Pico Rivera and Rosemead. The federally funded project was established to ease the impact of two 35-mile goods movement rail corridors through the building of center medians, crossing arm improvements, traffic signalization and grade separations.
Each of the alternatives will take two years to design and another two to four years to construct, said Cruz. Union Pacific has the ultimate decision on which, if any project is funded.
ACE originally allocated $90 million for upgrades in Montebello, but that fund has dipped to $62 million as funds were siphoned off to pay for other projects.
“For fourteen years we’ve been dithering with ‘do we do a trench, do we do an overpass, do we do an underpass,’ meanwhile other cities are reaching in to the pot of money that belongs to Montebello. At some point there won’t be any money for Montebello,” said Councilwoman Vivian Romero, clearly irritated by the city’s failure to move forward for more than a decade.
In 2011, city officials moved from supporting four underpasses to supporting the long trench option. Some members of the council, especially Mayor Bill Molinari, have repeatedly said they don’t believe the costs estimates or understand why ACE could pay over $330 million for grade separations in San Gabriel, but doesn’t have the same money for Montebello. ACE told the city it had to pay more for those upgrades in order to not disturb the historic San Gabriel Mission, and because traffic congestion was significantly worse in that area.
“If you want a trench, ACE will design it, but they will not build it, it will go on the shelf,” Cruz said at last week’s meeting.
“Frankly trenches affect the businesses,” said Cruz, who pointed out that the construction itself would create significant noise, traffic and dust. “You would feel the nuisance of a trench.”
Several residents complained that the city had wasted time and money by not making a decision.
“We either use it or we will lose it,” said John Paul, adding the Montebello Boulevard overpass made the most sense to him. “Why not start the process?”
“If we choose a trench, chances are we’re not going to get anything because we won’t get the money for it,” said another longtime resident. “The obvious solution is an underpass.”
Some business owners complained construction would hurt their businesses,
An hour into the meeting, business owner Joe Bezerra, clearly frustrated, asked Cruz which alternative the firm was pushing for.
“Honestly…come on, you’re not going to support that one,” said Bezerra, pointing at the billion-dollar trench.
“I would recommend the one that gets you the greatest grade separations as possible and treats the noise and trespassing issue, so I think the sealed corridor,” Cruz finally said. That option would cost $132 million.
Longtime resident and former city council candidate Larry Salazar accused ACE of not really wanting to do the project. He said the city is being forced to settle for an alternative and would be stuck with the cost.
“When a train goes by in this city, the whole city is cut off … sitting in that traffic could be a fire truck, a cop car or an ambulance,” he said. “You’re alternatives here don’t solve that problem,” they actually make it worse, Salazar said.
He said residents have been urging council members for years to make a decision. He said he told the council at its last meeting to pick an alternative, “back it up and work hard to get it.”
“Here’s the problem, solve it,” he said, visibly irritated. “It’s not about taking the money and doing whatever we can do, and settling for it because we don’t want to miss out on the money.”
Instead, Salazar said, the council hires another engineering firm and now “three [council members], out of all of the people that live here will decide…maybe.”
Infuriated by Salazar’s comments, Councilwoman Romero rose to “address some of the nonsensical” claims made by Salazar.
Salazar attempted to interrupt Romero, but that only raised her ire.
“Excuse me!” yelled Romero. “I have the floor.”
“This is a community meeting …You’re an elected official Vivian, you should stop,” responded Salazar, also rising from his seat.
The angry back-and-forth continued until City Manager Francesca Tucker-Schyler stepped in to get the meeting back under control, hitting her forehead and shaking her head before sitting down for the rest of the tense meeting.
Romero, speaking later in the meeting, said she agreed the council must make a decision, but implied that a trench would impact businesses and sales tax the most.
The comment prompted business owner Joe Bezerra to call out “B-S.”
“That’s not true,” he interrupted, causing voices to again be raised.
“Doesn’t it behoove the city to get what was offered to us instead of acting like children and saying we want our way,” Romero responded.
“What about the businesses people,” responded the owner of a business on Montebello Boulevard who advocated choosing the trench option.
“She’s talking about just taking what you have, there and just do it! She says that because she doesn’t own a business there,” he said.
“She’s not representing us at all.”
JMD is expected to take feedback from the meetings and prepare a report for the council, which will be discussed at a future public hearing before the council decides on an option, or even to move forward.
“If you don’t make a decision, ACE is going to move forward and go to another grade separation,” Cruz said.
Montebello Rail Alternatives
•Greenwood Avenue Underpass- $76.5 Million, no businesses or residential property would be acquired.
•Maple Avenue- $59.5 Million, ACE would have to acquire 7 residences and 2 businesses
•Long Trench- $1.01 Billion, would require that a Metrolink station be relocated, ACE would have to acquire 5 residential and 42 businesses properties.
•Medium Trench- $925 Million, Vail Street would be closed off ACE would have to acquire 5 residential and 42 businesses properties.
•Short Trench- $685 Million, Metrolink station would not be moved, 8 residential and 25 businesses properties.
•Sealed Corridor- $132.2 Million, Vail Street and Greenwood Avenue would be closed off, Underpasses would be built at Montebello Boulevard and Maple Avenue, ACE would have to acquire 7 residences and 2 businesses.Print This Post
June 19, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.