SCAG report

A proposed extension to Palmdale of the Virgin Trains USA/Brightline high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville is among the regional transportation projects included in the draft Connect SoCal plan released this month by the Southern California Association of Governments.

PALMDALE — As Southern California grows over the next 25 years, where people live, work and play and how they get from one place to another is the subject of a draft regional plan released this month by the Southern California Association of Governments.

Known as Connect SoCal, the draft plan is part of the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. SCAG is the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, representing six counties, 191 cities and more than 19 million residents.

It focuses on transportation and how it relates to land use, with a goal of reaching state greenhouse gas targets as a region. The state target is to reach 19% below the greenhouse gas numbers per capita of 2005 by 2035.

A plan that meets that target means continued access to various state funding sources.

The focus in on sustainability, recognizing the baseline situations across the region and coming up with plans to improve things for the long term, Palmdale Transportation/Strategic Initiatives Manager Mike Behen said.

This means looking at ways to rethink about transportation, housing, economic development and the like while still adhering to the local general plans. For example, the plan looks at ways of clustering development around transportation, helping to make the need for individual drives shorter and less frequent and taking advantage of other means of transportation.

The population forecast used in developing the draft plan shows Palmdale’s residents increasing from approximately 158,000 in 2016 to 207,000 over the next 25 years, while the region grows from 18 million to 22 million residents.

For Palmdale, one key factor cities and the county are working on is increasing the availability of jobs locally, in order to reduce commutes and therefore long-distance transportation needs.

“If we can do that, it will get them off the freeway” and improve quality of life, Behen said. “It’s a game-changer.”

The draft plan includes an extensive list of transportation projects to help reach its goals, including a couple dozen for Palmdale and the rest of the Antelope Valley. Some of these, such as widening the Antelope Valley Freeway between Rancho Vista Boulevard (Avenue P) and Palmdale Boulevard and improvements to the off-ramps at those two streets, are already underway.

One of the key projects for Palmdale listed in the plan is the High Desert Corridor, a planned transportation route linking the Antelope Valley with Victor Valley, creating another east-west corridor to move goods and people.

The corridor plan, which has evolved over many years, has included a highway, high-speed rail, bikeway and green energy components. However, following a settlement of a lawsuit by an environmental group, the focus now is on the high-speed rail component as an extension for the Virgin Trains USA service from Las Vegas to Victorville.

“They decided to focus in on the realistic, what can really get built,” Behen said.

The Connect SoCal draft plan includes $270 million for purchase of rights of way along the Los Angeles County portion of the route. Funding is still sought on the San Bernardino County side, as well as the future construction costs.

“It’s a good thing to have in there. It’s supported within the region,” Behen said.

The plan also includes 10 projects totaling $200 million to improve the Antelope Valley Freeway access points between Avenue I and Palmdale Boulevard.

“Those improvements that are happening are transformational,” Behen said.

Items like improving the off-ramps at Rancho Vista and Palmdale boulevards will increase capacity and safety, eliminating the traffic that often backs up into the freeway lanes.

Related is a project to improve Palmdale Boulevard, which is State Route 138, between Fifth and 10th streets east, which will improve the railroad crossing at Sierra Highway as well.

Palmdale transportation and planning officials are still reviewing the draft for specific impacts to the city.

The draft plan may be found at connectsocal.org. Comments on the draft plan will be accepted until Jan. 24.

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