Proposed Highway in the High Desert Could Include High Speed Rail

Map via Caltrans/Metro

Public meetings were held last week for the High Desert Corridor, a 63-mile freeway that will connect Palmdale and Victorville, replacing long dark stretches of routes 138 and 18. For decades, an alternative has been sought to replace the two lane roads nicknamed "blood alley" for its high fatalities.

Since the 1930s, there was always a need for an alternative route that would allow freight transport, as well as travelers, to avoid steep grades in and out of the Southern California basin.

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With the growth of High Desert cities, the Las Vegas to Victorville High Speed Rail route making major steps forward, and the construction of a major freight transit hub in Victorville now underway at the decommissioned George Air Force Base, the desert freeway is a high priority, say transportation officials.

At the public hearings held in High Desert communities, Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) introduced the details of the High Desert Corridor that will link California State Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) to Interstate 15, north of the Cajon Pass.

The east to west route will be begin as four lanes in Palmdale's existing Avenue P-8 corridor from State Route 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) to 100th Street for approximately 10 miles, according to the presentation. The 138 Freeway will be reconstructed as a new 4-lane freeway to 50th street, and possibly add a transition to 100th Street in Palmdale.

At the hearings, Caltrans also introduced detailed studies for the region susceptible to flashfloods and mud.

According to the offices of Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who has helped pushed through the progress of the route (and who with San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mizelfelt formed High Desert Corridor-Joint Powers Authority), congestion on Interstate 15 at Victorville and Hesperia can be relieved.

It also opens transit options on the northern edge of Los Angeles County, and provide an alternative route during natural disasters.

With the center median built with a right of way for rail facilities, the proposed freeway can extend the proposed "DesertXpress" Las Vegas to Victorville high-speed rail line to run 63 miles further west to Palmdale.

That allows the Nevada friendly high speed rail to reach deeper into California, and possibly meet the proposed California High Speed Rail line that will connect Northern and Southern California via the farmlands of the Central Valley. Federal and state authorities have committed $5.5 billion to the first leg of the California High Speed Rail and construction may begin in 2012. The full 800-mile route is not yet fully funded.

While the proposed highway considers possible links to high speed rail, it is not the only option. says Laurie Hunter of the High Desert Corridor-Joint Powers Authority, "The right of way can accommodate a Metrolink."

"It fits the way visionaries predicted the growth of the state," adds Hunter of the high desert plain between Central California and the U.S. "Back then, however, the planning was to put the infrastructure first."

One opposing the highway is Wilshire/Vermont, claiming the corridor will not reduce desert Interstate congestion because additional traffic is "severely limited by the bottleneck of the Antelope Valley Freeway." The project should concentrate strictly on rail transit, says the transportation blog.

Attendance at the public hearings included those who were in on corridor plans 25 years ago, says Hunter, adding other than hope the route will be free of tolls, there was little or no opposition to the long awaited route that keeps traffic "up on the hill."

The route is now the subject of three EIRS, combined as one, that will conclude its findings by 2012.

"A 50-mile first phase of the new route will be a public and private partnership," says Hunter, which is budgeted for $3 billion. Construction could begin in 2016 and be completed in 2020. The proposal states an anticipated 14,000 jobs will be provided during the routes construction and up to 42,000 sustainable jobs will be created afterward.

"It is also planned to be a utility corridor," says Hunter, stating the route will be equipped with solar and sun panels, forming a renewable energy corridor that can help power any form of rail system that accompanies vehicular traffic.

"It is not just about building a highway," says Hunter. "It's a laboratory for the nation."

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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The high speed rail part of this project makes more sense than the highway.