Metrolink trains have been operating in Southern California since 1992, and although timetables and station locations can often be less than ideal, the trains provide a reliable alternative to cars for many Los Angeles, Orange County, and Inland Empire residents. Traffic on area freeways can cause significant delays, and the average Riverside County commuter spends 31.7 minutes commuting to work each way. That’s 15% higher than the average for California and 20% higher than the average for the U.S., according to the 2013 Riverside County Community Heath Profile. A significant portion of this traffic travels up and down the Interstate 215 corridor, between Downtown Riverside and Southern Riverside/Northern San Diego Counties. I-215 serves cities such as Murrieta, Menifee, Perris, Moreno Valley and Riverside. That’s why, in 2002, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) identified an extension of the 91 Line Metrolink service as a preferred alternative to the I-215, calling it the Perris Valley Line (PVL). The PVL services a 24 mile stretch along I-215 from South Perris to Downtown Riverside, and has stops in Perris, Moreno Valley, and Riverside.
Construction of the PVL began in October 2014, but as the delay between its planning and construction illustrates, it has not been an easy road. The project also provides an example of how California environmental law has been used by certain groups to stall projects that actually have a positive environmental impact. In 1993, RCTC acquired the San Jacinto Branch line of the Burlington North Santa Fe railroad, anticipating an expansion of the then newly-opened Metrolink system. Planning for the PVL began in 2002, and in 2007 the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) awarded RCTC $75 million in funding under the “small starts” program. RCTC completed a CEQA environmental review of the project, and a Mitigated Negative Declaration was circulated and approved in July 2011.
But shortly after its approval, the project’s environmental review was brought into question by a local community group called Friends of Riverside's Hills. The group claimed that the project did not adequately address environmental impacts such as noise and pedestrian safety, despite the fact that it provided for the installation of sound walls near schools, improved crossings, and the creation of “quite zones,” where trains are prohibited from using their horns. In May 2013, a court ruling decertified the entire EIR, and the project was stalled. RCTC reached a settlement on the ruling in 2013, determining that they will provide increased soundproofing in local residential areas as well as recreational trail development. However, the lawsuit served to stall progress in the region -a region that could benefit greatly from having 4,000 cars pulled off the freeway by this project.
The PVL is set to open in December 2015, with stations in Riverside-Hunter Park, Moreno Valley, Downtown Perris and South Perris, and is expected to have an initial ridership of 4,000 daily rides.
Would you commute on the train if you could? What can be done to help keep environmental laws from being used against projects that provide an environmental benefit? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Taylor York. Data linked to sources.