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Millions of dollars at stake as Colton Crossing deal remains unresolved

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February 14, 2001 Southern California officials have one week to come to agreement on the public benefits of a planned railroad overpass in Colton, or risk losing $125 million for the Inland area, The Press-Enterprise reports. To quell concerns from coastal counties, San Bernardino County officials have offered to pull their request for state bond money for a massive interchange overhaul proposed near Devore. Officials said they will find money elsewhere to reconfigure the Interstate 215 and Interstate 15 convergence.

An agreement between
transportation officials in the region,
Union Pacific and BNSF must be in the hands of state officials by
May 7 spelling out how the Colton Crossing will be built and paid for. Plans
call for the east-west Union Pacific tracks to be raised above the north-south
BNSF line.

The $202-million project
would alleviate a railroad bottleneck that delays freight moving in and out of
the area. Construction is expected to start later next year if the project’s
funding is finalized, Union Pacific spokesman Scott Moore said earlier this
month.

State and local officials
have struggled to put together a deal with the railroads that demonstrates
enough benefit for local drivers and residents to warrant $125 million in state
and federal funds. Earlier proposals were criticized because they benefited the
freight railroads more than the public, despite governments footing most of the
cost.

The bulk of the public
money, $91.3 million, comes from Prop. 1B, the transportation bond voters
approved in 2006.

The California
Transportation Commission denied a request for the money in March, and left the
decision up to the Southern California Consensus Group — transportation
officials in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura
counties, as well as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The consensus
group must come to agreement on the project in order to receive state transportation
commission approval.

The remainder of the
public funding comes from $33.8 million in federal stimulus dollars.

But the state and federal
funds come with a web of strings attached. The state won’t hand over the money
without the federal funds, but the federal funds aren’t available until the
state agrees to the plans for the overpass.

Regional officials face
three deadlines to keep the project alive. They must have an agreement signed
by the consensus group to the state transportation commission by May 7, so
state officials can forward it on to the federal officials holding the stimulus
purse strings by May 17.

Finally, the state
commission must approve the local deal when it meets May 18. Missing any of the
deadlines leaves the project in jeopardy of losing millions of dollars,
potentially shelving it for years.

Untying the bureaucracy
necessary to untie the railroad tracks remains the responsibility of San
Bernardino transportation officials.

San Bernardino officials
have tweaked the agreement into something they think can work, they said. A
separate deal between the railroads, SANBAG and Colton city officials outlines
a planned underpass at Laurel Avenue and improvements that will allow trains to
proceed through the city without blowing their horns.

In the last two weeks,
San Bernardino transportation officials also agreed to pull the Devore
interchange from the list of projects included in the state bond program. Some
Southern California officials worried that not enough money would be available
in the bond package for their projects if both of the large San Bernardino County
projects were included.

Union Pacific, which is
contributing about $60 million to the Colton Crossing project, has agreed to a
number of concessions including additional passenger-train access to the
tracks, and will study the feasibility of opening space on the tracks for
Metrolink trains to travel to the Coachella Valley. The freight railroads
control much of Southern California’s passenger train movement because they own
the tracks and allow the trains to operate on the lines around their own
business needs.

Riverside County
Transportation Commission

officials asked for the Union Pacific study because board members from the
desert have sought commuter train service, said deputy director John
Standiford.

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