Two disasters last month were stark reminders of what a fragile thread our transportation network can be in the face of a natural or man-made disaster, highlighting the need for alternatives.
First was the shutdown of Interstate 5 when a tanker truck erupted into an inferno that closed a major tunnel just north of Los Angeles.
Closer to home were the tragic firestorms that roared through our local mountains, torching 14,000 acres and incinerating 439 homes.
In the early hours of the fires, Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass was closed, stranding numerous High Desert commuters and triggering gridlock at the top and bottom of the pass.
Interstate 15 is one of only two major freeways connecting the Inland Empire and the Los Angeles basin with the rest of the nation to the east. The Cajon Pass has been shut down numerous times over the years for everything from snow to fires to deadly train derailments. Also in the pass, the San Andreas Fault slices right beneath the freeway.
While disasters happen only occasionally, we need an alternative.
We need better ways to move trucks and commuters as the region's explosive growth makes getting from here to there more difficult every day.
The High Desert Corridor will run from Victorville to Palmdale as a brand-new, state-of-the-art expressway, ranging from four to eight lanes. It will improve traffic safety regionally and provide desperately needed new capacity.
Ultimately this roadway, which Congress has made a national priority corridor and dubbed the "E-220," will connect to Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles and Highway 18 east of Victorville.
As the expanding warehouse and shipping industry runs out of space in the Inland Valley areas, the High Desert is the natural place for logistics companies to locate. Warehouse space needs to double, meaning an additional 1.5 billion square feet. That translates to 107 square miles of warehouse floor space.
The High Desert Corridor will keep many resulting additional trucks off Interstate 10, I-15 and Highway 60. That also means truckers will have a wide, safe alternative to Highway 138 and Highway 18.
Trucks leaving Southern California Logistics Airport will mostly be heading northeast, away from the population centers of the Victor Valley.
It's not just about safety, congestion and air quality; it's about economic growth and quality of life.
In the near future, the High Desert will evolve into a major "inland port" complex. At both the Southern California Logistics Airport (formerly George Air Force Base in Victorville) and Palmdale Airport, major intermodal freight yards are in development or on the drawing board. These facilities will handle the large shipping containers which must now be put onto trucks and trains exclusively in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors and at yards along our local freeways today, including the BNSF Railway intermodal yard in San Bernardino.
New logistics-related jobs in the High Desert will reduce the need for thousands of commuters to drive "down the hill" to work in the urban and coastal communities.
Every freight train that speeds to the High Desert takes 200 trucks off Inland Empire streets and highways.
Shipments to our ports now account for almost 40 percent of all international trade nationally. In the next few decades, shipments are expected to triple. Speeding freight out of the Los Angeles basin isn't just a good idea - it is one of the only ways to maintain the harbors and our region's economic and transportation system.
That is why I have worked closely with Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and other officials to form the High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Authority to get this regionally and nationally important highway built. I am chairman of the authority, which also includes High Desert cities from both counties.
The High Desert continues to be one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Just the four incorporated cities in the Victor Valley have seen a 40 percent increase in population since 2000.
Southern California is blessed to be the cultural and physical gateway to the Pacific Rim and trillions of dollars of economic activity.
Our project is well into the design and environmental review phases of development and is exactly the kind of project envisioned when voters last year approved Proposition 1B, the $19.9 billion bond measure for transportation infrastructure.
The High Desert Corridor is on the top-five list of projects unanimously agreed upon by the county's transportation authority, San Bernardino Associated Governments. We are fighting hard to get our share of that bond money.
The High Desert Corridor and Inland ports mark a historic opportunity to help shape our future, enhance economic growth and dramatically improve our quality of life.
We encourage the state and federal governments, as well as all local leaders and citizens, to join us in this critical effort.
The federal government, which regulates interstate and international commerce, the goods movement industries, and our regional political leaders have allowed the amount of freight coming into this country through our county to skyrocket without adequately providing necessary infrastructure.
Our plan is an opportunity to set us on a course to where we benefit more (with jobs), and get impacted less (by traffic), as goods movement continues to increase.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt represents the 1st District, which includes the Victor Valley.
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