By BOB WILSON
Valley Press Staff Writer
PALMDALE - Jammed roadways, snail-paced traffic and smoggy air are three things Valley residents can look forward to during during the next 20 years unless plans to prevent them are drawn soon. By 2020, Southern California's population will grow from 15.7 million to an estimated 22.4 million people, according to projections by the Southern California Association of Governments. About 65% of that growth will come from the expansion of the existing population, and about 35% from people relocating from outside the region.
Of that 6.7 million people, about 737,000 are expected to find homes in the Antelope Valley, Councilman David Myers says. But while the Valley will absorb about 11% of the region's population growth, its job base is expected to grow by only 7%.
That means even more drivers will be using the Antelope Valley Freeway and other roadways to reach jobs that are even farther away. Some of those jobs could be in Orange County, where the job base is expected to grow by 21% in the face of an 11% population expansion.
As a result, more than 35% of the AV's workers can look forward to commutes of more than 110 minutes one way, driving in traffic traveling as slow as 20 mph. That scenario directly conflicts with federal standards requiring cities and counties to reduce air pollution despite increased traffic.
Laying plans to solve such problems is one of the tasks SCAG undertakes for its member cities, counties and transportation commissions, said Myers, who sits on the SCAG's board of representatives on behalf of Palmdale, Lancaster, Santa Clarita and the unincorporated areas of North Los Angeles County.
Without SCAG's planning, member agencies would not qualify for the government funding available to help solve such problems.
"SCAG has four mandated elements from the federal government," which are to plan for overall growth, to meet housing and transportation needs, and to reach air-quality goals.
"If it doesn't do those things, this region doesn't qualify for state and federal funding," the councilman said during a public presentation on the overall purpose of SCAG and some of the problems it - and the Antelope Valley - face.
He and the other 76 representatives on the SCAG board sort through their needs, develop possible solutions and forward proposals to the state for funding, Myers said.
Currently, SCAG expects $82.5 billion in assistance, but of that: $40 billion has been earmarked for the repair of existing roadways, and $24.1 billion has been earmarked for previously planned roadway-improvement projects, leaving $18.4 billion for new projects in SCAG's six-county jurisdiction, which includes metropolitan Los Angeles.
"That means half that money is purely for the maintenance of what we have now - no new concrete," the councilman said. "What you don't see is another $50 billion in projects" that SCAG members have said they need in order to meet regional mobility needs given the expected population expansion.
At present, there are no plans to widen the AV Freeway beyond the addition of a single High-Occupancy Vehicle, or carpool, lane already under construction, he said.
To get "new concrete," Myers said, SCAG is using a $400,000 grant to study the feasibility of High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes: additional freeway lanes that could be built for drivers willing to pay a toll to use them.
Among the roadways being considered for 534 miles of HOT lanes are the AV Freeway and portions of Interstate 5 and 215.
"A lot of people have objected" to the proposed HOT lanes, "saying, `I already pay for this,' " Myers said.
Other possible solutions are the expansion of the existing Metrolink commuter-train service; constructing a new, intercity highspeed rail line; and improving regional air service, he said.
But those living near the airports that would handle the extra passengers, such as Burbank, Ontario and John Wayne, are objecting to the coinciding increases in aircraft noise and street traffic as well as to the added pollution from both, Myers said.
In December, SCAG will begin the process of updating its projections for the possible number of passengers that could be apportioned among 14 airfields, including five military bases already shut down or expected to be soon.
"But virtually every one of these airports - either real or proposed - is shrouded in some sort of controversy," Myers said.
SCAG's projections will indicate for the federal Environmental Protection Agency the viability of any proposal for those airports, including Palmdale Regional, he said.
By 2020, a Palmdale airport could be serving as many as 4.9 million passengers a year, depending on the transportation infrastructure put in place to make the facility accessible, he said. Many doubt this, but it is a potential outcome.
"It's incumbent upon us (in SCAG) to work long-term in terms of highways, air transit, highspeed rail and commuter rail - all of those elements fit into it," Myers said. But a high-speed rail system could cost as much as $30 billion, which may have to come from several sources, including private investors and increased sales taxes.
It also lies with SCAG to apportion the region's anticipated housing needs among its member cities. But because some of those cities have no room for new housing, those needs must be satisfied by the cities that can accommodate new growth.
That means the state, in accordance with federal law, could require Palmdale, with its affordable land, to carry an additional burden in terms of housing for low-income families, Myers said.
It is important for the residents of municipalities like Palmdale to recognize and understand the forces outside the city that help shape its future, he said.