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San Gabriel Valley Tribune
February 26, 2011
By Bethania Palma Markus, Staff Writer


ACE and Napolitano meet with Montebello residents over railroad crossing project


MONTEBELLO - Residents could lose out on a stalled railroad underpass project meant to relieve a busy train crossing at Montebello Boulevard if the city doesn't soon come to an agreement with the construction authority proposing it.

Officials from the Alameda Corridor East and Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, spoke at a meeting Thursday night at the senior center on Taylor Avenue to discuss options for the crossing project.

They laid out alternatives to the original proposal and stressed the need to get a project moving before money and time runs out.

"This isn't something that's been foisted on you just recently, this is ongoing," Napolitano told the crowd of about 100.

She later expressed frustration because "this should have been settled years ago."

More than a decade ago ACE was created by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments with the task of alleviating traffic at the most problematic railroad crossings. The authority competes for federal grants to fund the projects.

ACE will fold once all its projects are complete.

"The ACE authority is a sunset organization," said ACE CEO Rick Richmond. "Because we have these projects (that haven't started) we're trying to resolve as rapidly as possible which ones we're going to do."

ACE in 2000 proposed lowering Montebello Boulevard and raising Union Pacific railroad tracks but the project was held up when city officials backed out and said they wanted a trench through Montebello instead of a grade separation.

The original grade separation would cost about $90 million while the trench through the city would have cost $360 million.

Now there are only six projects left on ACE's 20-project lineup. With money running out, ACE needs to quickly determine which ones will go forward.

ACE has $350 million for the remaining projects, and with the new Republican majority on Capitol Hill, Napolitano said getting any more funding will be a challenge.

But Larry Salazar, a vocal community activist who has staunchly opposed the grade separation, said Thursday only the trench would do.

"We want to see someone else do a study on what (the trench) would cost," he said. "They're building a trench in San Gabriel, why can't they look for the funds for us? They need to build a trench for us."

The city years ago tried to find funding for the trench from sources other than ACE but was unsuccessful.

And ACE officials said the San Gabriel trench under Ramona Street, Mission Road, Del Mar Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard is warranted because the four crossings are heavily congested.

A trench in San Gabriel was also needed because any other project would have impacted or destroyed the San Gabriel Mission - a historic landmark.

Other than Montebello Boulevard, the streets in Montebello aren't as impacted as those in San Gabriel, according to ACE statistics.

Aside from the original grade separation project and trench, ACE officials Thursday also discussed alternatives to the original grade separation and the fully lowered trench.

They include a partial trench that would lower tracks below Montebello Boulevard and Greenwood Avenue, a concrete bridge for the tracks and an underpass at Greenwood Avenue with traffic rerouted to Greenwood when a train is blocking Montebello Boulevard.

Napolitano said she would support whatever the community chooses but urged thinking outside the box if residents and officials decided they didn't want to go with ACE's program.

"Look at other states and what they've done with private-public partnerships," Napolitano said. "Have you done your homework? Don't just get up and pontificate."

bethania.palma@sgvn.com

626-962-8811, ext. 2108