The construction of a 24 mile railway that will connect Perris to Riverside began Friday, Feb. 21 marking the final phase of a project that has been more than 25 years in the making.
The line, which will have four new stations, will essentially extend the 91 line that runs from Riverside to Los Angeles.
The project has a large number of supporters from members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to state senators and congressman. Many of these individuals have touted the project’s potential economic impact, saying it could bring approximately 4,000 jobs into the region during construction time.
The rail line is also expected to alleviate traffic congestion between Perris and Riverside. Estimates say that more than 4,000 individuals will be taking the train rather than driving on the 60 and 215 freeways.
But it’s taken a long time to bring the project to life because not everyone has been happy with having a train run through the area. Raising the necessary funding has taken time as well, according to John Standiford, deputy executive director at the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC).
Standiford said that the project has been in the works for quite a number of years. The track that will compose part of the rail line was purchased in 1993 from what was then the Southern Pacific Railroad through the Measure A transportation sales tax program. The measure was approved by voters in 1988.
But then, the purchase hasn’t been the only component in facilitating the project. While much of the original line from the Southern Pacific Railroad will be used in the train route, accommodations and changes will need to be made to the rail so that higher speed trains will be able to travel along it and that’s something that has required a substantial amount of additional funding, according to
“The sales tax measure that was approved was a 20 year measure, so not all of the money comes immediately,” said Standiford. “We also had significant opposition that we had to work through for part of that line, especially near UC Riverside; there was a lawsuit that delayed the project filed by residents in that area.”
Standiford was referring to litigation filed by friends of Riverside Hills. The organization sought to prevent the train line from being built by challenging the environmental impact report that was compiled prior to the start of the project. Those individuals eventually settled in a deal which would require RCTC to contribute funding to project betterments such as home soundproofing. It also required that the transportation commission purchase lands for animal habitat and recreational trail development.
But perhaps the most important reason the project didn’t get underway sooner was that there wasn’t a demand for it, according to Standiford.
“We probably didn’t have the population in 1993 that would have demanded it,” said Standiford. “But it was one of those things where you made the investment with the idea that growth would be coming in the future. There’s quite a few more people who live along the 215 corridor than there was in 1993 for example.”
But now that the project is on course to be built, it marks the first time there’s been a line extension for Metrolink in 20 years. That’s something Metrolink Spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said he’s excited about.
“Exension of the Perris line has been a longstanding goal of our board,” said Lustgarten. “And it became a reality late last year once Riverside County Transportation Commission was able to get through all the necessary environmental clearances and whatnot.”
Lustgarten said the train extension time table isn’t exact but that Metrolink and RCTC are seeking to get it done by the tail-end of 2015. He said the board isn’t worried the 91 will become too crowded as a result of the extension of the line.
“It’s not a concern at this point,” he said. “We look at our schedules at least twice a year to see if there are adjustments that have to be made either with time or trains and at this time we’re not anticipating any significant impacts to the 91 line.”