Commuter rail progress slow but steady, leaders note

The $1 billion project would be a 144-mile route that snakes through the Inland Empire from Coachella to downtown Los Angeles, taking roughly three hours to make the one-way journey.
Mayor Lisa Middleton (right) poses with Riverside County 4th District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez (center) and California State Transportation Agency Secretary Toks Omishakin after a recent meeting.

It’s been a few months since we last heard anything about the proposed rail service between parts of the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, but a recent Palm Springs City Council meeting proved the issue is not far from city officials’ minds.

Driving the news: Mayor Lisa Middleton, who serves on the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), reiterated the city’s support for the project earlier this month after a brief presentation from an RCTC staff member, who noted recent progress.

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  • In November, Middleton and RCTC Chair and Riverside County 4th District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez met with California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) Secretary Toks Omishakin in Riverside to discuss the project.
     
  • That meeting comes on the heels of a productive meeting in September in Washington, D.C., with federal officials and another in Los Angeles with Amtrak representatives. 

What they’re saying: Middleton and others involved with the project recognize constituents’ impatience but said no project of this scale gets finished fast.

  • “This is a generational project, and generational projects sometimes take a generation or more to be built,” Middleton said after the presentation. “It’s not going to be built tomorrow, but that’s no reason to stop this project now.”

Background: The $1 billion project would be a 144-mile route that snakes through the Inland Empire from Coachella to downtown Los Angeles, taking roughly three hours to make the one-way journey. Plans call for the existing Palm Springs station near Interstate 10 to be one of the valley’s stops.

  • The project was envisioned in 1991 and seemed to have fallen out of the public eye for years. Efforts started gaining steam in 2016 when the RCTC received a grant for a Tier 1 environmental impact report. That report was adopted in July.

Yes, but: Even though a stop in Palm Springs is a no-brainer, Middleton urged her fellow councilmembers to consider what could be done to spruce up the station near Interstate 10. 

  • “We have an advantage in Palm Springs because we have an existing station,” she said. “But it’s going to need some tender loving care. We should start putting on our drawing board what are the kinds of things we want to commit to so we don’t just sit on the laurels of having an existing station.”

What to watch for: RCTC is fundraising for $20 million to help fund the Tier 2 environmental impact studies, which will cost about $60 million.


RELATED: New momentum, federal support has commuter rail between valley, Los Angeles on track

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