Forum tackles local transportation concerns, challenges

About 70 people listen to panelist Raffi Hamparian at the Transportation Forum Tuesday afternoon.

LANCASTER – A panelist of transportation officials addressed challenges the Antelope Valley faces at the Regional Transportation Forum Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve all had an opportunity to use roads, highways and mass transit the majority of our lives. We don’t understand sometimes what it takes to have those services and the challenges of maintaining them,” said Bill Taylor, Antelope Valley Board of Trade (AVBOT) Transportation Committee Co-Chairman.

Transportation challenges are a priority that needs to be addressed, which is partly why this forum is taking place, Taylor said.

“The major backbone of our infrastructure system has been built basically by our fathers and grandfathers,” he said. “Now if we don’t maintain it and continue to expand our population growth, it’s going to fall apart all around us and so it’s at the end of its life cycle, it’s at the end of usefulness. Now it’s time for us to pick up and take what we’ve inherited and fix it, repair it and expand it.”

Patrick DeChellis, deputy director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, addresses local transportation issues.

Patrick DeChellis, deputy director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, said in his discussion that they are going to have to start making tough decisions because costs are rising, but revenue is not.

“We don’t want those roads to crumble and have to be fully reconstructed,” DeChellis said. “If we can do these micro treatments which rejuvenates the pavement and extends it five, 10, 15 years at a fraction of the cost, that’s what we need to be doing.”

The vast majority of the money that the counties receive is from the state gas tax, he said, which is down 20 percent from its peak four years ago.

“So it’s how to do more with less. But we’re all faced with that and the hard decisions that we have that we’re going to have to make in order to maintain the system,” DeChellis said.

Raffi Hamparian, one of the panelists from LA County Metro Transportation Authority (LACMTA), said a major debate is happening in America right now.

“The debate is the future of transportation spending and all Americans wanting more mobility,” he said. “They want mobility for the business of commerce, they want mobility for their families, and they want mobility to improve the qualities of their lives. The fundamental question is how do we pay for it.”

Hamparian also spoke of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who realized there was not a system that connected America’s major metropolitan areas, and therefore developed the Eisenhower highway system.

“The fundamental question is that vision that Eisenhower had – what are we going to do with that vision?” he said. “Are we going to expand on it? Are we going to keep the status quo? Are we going to move fundamental responsibilities back to the states?”

There are two main directions to choose from, Hamparian said.

“America could go the way of ramping down its infrastructure spending, which has the benefit of being less of a burden on our national finances and our debt but has the pitfall of perhaps leaving us behind in a new age when the transport of goods and commerce is even more important to our economic competitiveness,” Hamparian said.

The other option is to increase spending, which will improve mobility but also cost a lot of money, he added.

“There are no, excuse the pun, free rides,” Hamparian said. “If you want a first class transportation system, you’re going to have to pay for it. And that’s in a broader way, the fundamental issue the nation’s facing.”

Don Sepulveda, the other panelist from LACMTA, said they did a strategic study of the Antelope Valley metrolink line that runs between Lancaster and Union Station to find out how to improve the flexibility of their service, he said.

“We believe that this line is very important, not only in economic growth of the Antelope Valley, but also the economic growth of Los Angeles so it’s very important to keep this line as efficient as possible,” Sepulveda said.

One of the goals is to condense the run time from Lancaster to Union Station to one hour instead of two, he said.

They’ve broken the project into two tiers, costing about $45 million for track improvements and about $34 million for a second platform in Palmdale, a crossing and additional track improvements.

“The reality is if we don’t make some changes as far as these things go, or at least getting the work out that we need these investments, we’re going to lose in the end,” Sepulveda said. “And we’ve got to stop thinking to next week and start thinking towards our children.”

Taylor said he thinks the future of transportation hinges upon what happens with the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

“The highway trust fund hasn’t been reauthorized in almost two years,” Taylor said. “As a result we don’t have the federal dollars which are used by matching funds both at the state and local level, to even maintain our systems, let alone expand them for the increased demand in population.”