"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal City Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Connie Worden-Roberts, co-chair of the SCV Transportation Alliance and chair of the SCV Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee. The following interview was conducted June 24. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: You've been called the Santa Clarita Valley's road warrior. What are your credentials as they pertain to roads?
Worden-Roberts: (They are) my chairmanship of the (SCV) Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee, that has to do with identifying the roads that are the most important in the Santa Clarita Valley. I am also a chairperson for the (SCV) Transportation Alliance, which has to do with the construction of the cross-valley connector, a position that I chair with (City Councilman) Frank Ferry.
Signal: Didn't Supervisor Mike Antonovich appoint you to something?
Worden-Roberts: Yes, that's yet another one. That (is) the North County Transportation Coalition, which has to do with identifying those roads that are important to traversing Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley.
Signal: So does that mean you're from the government and you're here to help us? Or do you do this as a private citizen?
Worden-Roberts: I'm a private citizen. I am also here to shake the conscience of all of the local people as well as those who ... are elected or appointed to commissions, etc., through out the north county.
Signal: Shake their conscience? What do you want them to know about the cross-valley connector?
Worden-Roberts: The cross-valley connector is a unique road that serves the Santa Clarita Valley. It goes from state Route 14 over to state Route 126. It (is) partially under construction and yet will be constructed. ... It will use the Golden Valley Road, it will traverse Soledad Canyon, and ... go across over to 126.
Signal: So the existing parts of Golden Valley and Newhall Ranch roads are actually part of the connector. It's already mostly built.
Worden-Roberts: It's mostly built. But it has some unique and very important additions that have to be (made)...
Signal: Will there be a big bridge going over Soledad?
Worden-Roberts: An important aspect of it is a very big bridge. (It is) the first portion of the connection that will lead over to the rest of the road which will ... go from Golden Valley Road, crossing over the top of Soledad, (ending) on the Newhall portion of the road, north of the river...
Signal: Coming down Golden Valley Road from SR 14, there are some new buildings near The Home Depot. It looks like Consumers Furniture and Berks Discount Office Supply and other businesses are moving out of the way of the road.
Worden-Roberts: You've got it. They are moving, and they have already accepted and I think have been well accommodated to new (buildings) which are to the immediate west. That portion of the road will accommodate the transportation that will come across the road there at that location.
Signal: When will the whole connector be complete?
Worden-Roberts: The entire road will be complete I think we can say, conservatively, that it will be completed in two to three years. The reason I say that is that it takes a long while to build roads. And two to three years is quite different from saying 20 to 30 years, which is what I would normally give you for a road of (this) magnitude. But the fact that it has been so well developed, and so well defined, and is already financed that's going to accommodate its construction in a much shorter period of time.
Signal: So we're talking 2006 or 2007.
Signal: But that 20 or 30 year figure how long as this road been on the drawing board?
Worden-Roberts: Too long. too long. And it probably (has been) 20 years. But truthfully, for the rapidly growing valley that the Santa Clarita Valley is this accommodates the traffic flow in a much shorter period of time. And it will actually realize a material difference in moving the people from the Antelope Valley and the eastern portion of the Santa Clarita Valley to the work centers in the current industrial centers which are to the immediate west of interstate 5.
Signal: Critics say all this money is being spent on a road that will fill up right away with truck traffic especially if the Cemex mining project goes through putting us right back where we were in terms of gridlock. What do you say to that?
Worden-Roberts: The Cemex question is still problematical, and I would certainly hope that (those) who are critical of the Cemex plant and that's about 99 percent of the Santa Clarita Valley, (with) assistance by their elected officials such as our congressman, Buck McKeon will work their best to reduce the traffic and to reduce the potential for the Cemex development.
Having said that, the other thing I will say is that the major traffic today that utilizes the passage through the Santa Clarita Valley is that which comes down Interstate 5. ... Interstate 5 accommodates traffic that is not only local, regional, statewide, national but is also global. ... A large measure of it is going to use ports at San Pedro and Long Beach. ... With respect to the (cross-valley connector), there is far less of that through-national traffic that is coming down there.
Signal: Is the cross-valley connector all taxpayer funded?
Worden-Roberts: It is most of all taxpayer funded. It has augmentation from the federal government through our congressman, Buck McKeon, to accommodate that more swift movement of traffic. But yes, in its usual fashion, it has been accepted by, identified by, the state of California as an important route, and it will be built in large measure through their funding.
Signal: What has been the responsibility of developers in terms of funding?
Worden-Roberts: It's relatively minimal.
Signal: Didn't Newhall Land pay for the Newhall Ranch Road portion of it?
Worden-Roberts: Yes, they did, and they paid more than most to build the cross-valley connector. And other builders contribute to that. But still, there is a participation from the local government and the state government to build that kind of a road.
Signal: What is the grand total price tag of this thing?
Worden-Roberts: In excess of $300 million.
Signal: How does the cross-valley connector help people in Canyon Country? Some critics say it's only going to help people get to Valencia quicker.
Worden-Roberts: In an identification of the people who need to go where they need to go ... they have identified the greater number of people have to move from Canyon Country to points that are westbound of Canyon Country. So that means going in a westbound direction, utilizing either Soledad Canyon Road or 126 or whatever's available to them to go in that direction.
If you magnify that by the totality of people who need to move in this valley, there is a great reliance on state and other governmentally funded roads. It isn't just people needing to move within the city of Santa Clarita. ... Approximately 10 years ago, it was determined that nearly 60 percent of the people who left Santa Clarita Valley in the morning for jobs elsewhere were utilizing the freeways in some extent to do so. They were going southbound, generally. In the last 10 years, the figure has gone down to approximately 48 percent.
Is that a significant difference? Yes and no. Yes, it is a significant difference; it's a 12-percent difference. Is it a significant difference in other fashions? The total number of residents here has grown exponentially since that time. And will we grow again? One of the issues we have to discuss and I would like to disagree with the demographers, but I cannot disagree with the demographers who say that in the future, this valley will be even more dependent on routes that take us to other locations, primarily southbound locations.
Signal: So we're not going to become a self-contained community where people don't generally travel outside the valley.
Worden-Roberts: In all likelihood, we will not be. They say that there will be more of us who will be needing to use roads that are primarily southbound for employment.
Signal: How effectively will the connector relieve our gridlock problems? How much time will it save in getting back and forth between Canyon Country and Valencia, and for how long?
Worden-Roberts: Let me answer you first of all by saying, I don't know. And then second of all by saying to you that it is the expectation of significant agencies, like Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Southern California Association of Governments and other people who have significant demographers working on this issue, that we will, in the Santa Clarita Valley, have an exponential increase in our population. They say, among other things,, that Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley will need to accept the absorption of 2 million more people in the next 20 years.
Will we be able to build up roads to accommodate that? I suspect, because of my long history with roads and the frustration of being a road person for all those years, that the answer is no, and that we still will have suffered these problems 20 years from now.
Signal: So, regardless of how many times we've heard the City Council tout the importance of the cross-valley connector, it isn't the panacea. It's just one of many roads that will have to be built over the next forever.
Worden-Roberts: I think you're right. And I welcome the participation and the importance of the City Council supporting the development of the cross-valley connector. I really do. Is it the panacea? No, it is not. Is there a panacea? I wish I knew the answer to that one, and I suspect there is not one.
Signal: Should we be putting more emphasis on passenger rail and other alternative modes of transportation?
Worden-Roberts: We should be putting all kinds of importance on alternative means of getting from one point to another. We should embrace the idea of really good rail, we should embrace the idea of other accommodations whether it be van lines, rapid transit, whatever it is. I may hold the mark a little bit on maglev (magnetic levitation rail), only because of its expense, but we should be embracing the idea of using all kinds of other transportation to get us from point A to point B.
Signal: You've been involved in promoting telecommuting, which doesn't seem to have gotten off the ground to the extent some people may have envisioned a dozen or so years ago. It seems there will have to be a paradigm shift before people will get out of their cars. They just don't use Metrolink. They don't use alternate modes of transportation. What needs to happen?
Worden-Roberts: We haven't accepted the paradigm shift that we could ... embrace as it relates to many other issues. With transportation we understand it because it's been around for hundreds of years, for thousands of years, in one fashion or another. ... We have (shifted) people from rail to cars to trains to airplanes and back maybe to trains again, but we have not yet embraced the fact that we have to do a lot of other shifting.
And yes, there are more and more companies that are embracing the fact that you, or a worker for a company, could use a computer to "commute" back and forth to his company. They have now started to do so. It's very limited in its percentage, but it has begun, and it's a greater percentage than what a lot of companies are willing to accept. I'm seeing that in the Telecenter that I'm in charge of ... and we'll see more of that.
Is that going to work for everybody? Absolutely not. It's not going to work for everybody. So we have to do a variety of things to accommodate new shifts. I think as we move along, as we embrace other adventures and decisions in business, we'll find other things that will accommodate that kind of need.
Signal: It seems the cross-valley connector is all we ever hear about in the fight against gridlock. Do you think it's correct for the various entities the City Council, the Transportation Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce to throw all their eggs into the basket of the cross-valley connector? Or would we be better served if they put that same energy into passenger rail or something else?
Worden-Roberts: For the current climate, and the realistic appraisal of what goes on, they have to support the cross-valley connector, and it is wise for them to do so now, because that's going to solve some immediate problems. I would ask that they do an immediate turnaround and start supporting some other issues which are more longer-lived in (terms of) what's going to be needed in the next 10 to 20 to 30 years.
Yes, we need the cross-valley connector. Yes, we need a good connection to the new development to the west of interstate 5. And we need to have a better, faster connection for the folks who will be using it, those persons who live east of it. But must they stop then? No. I think that's just the first step on a long ladder up, and they've got to start that second and third and maybe the 25th step up, to embrace other issues that we will need to address before the next two decades are out. They've got to be there.
Signal: What do you think of the proposed $35 billion bullet train from San Francisco and Sacramento down to San Diego? Should the voters spend money on it? (Editor's note: Subsequent to this interview, it was removed from the November ballot.)
Worden-Roberts: Well I'm probably the last person who should tell you who should vote for what. I will always support those issues that have to do with transportation that are logical and realistic. I can affirm to you that we need to have better means of getting from one end of this huge state to the other, and probably the bullet train is the right one...
Signal: So you think the bullet train is logical and realistic?
Worden-Roberts: The bullet train, I think, is a realistic measure that will take us from one point of high utilization to the other, and back again...
Signal: There has been talk for 10 or 15 years about a network of roads to solve some of our transportation problems among them a linkage of Magic Mountain Parkway and Via Princessa through the contaminated Bermite property. Is that logical and realistic?
Worden-Roberts: Well two things I'd like to say to you. One is that for the first time since I've been working on (the Bermite cleanup), which is more years than I want to acknowledge, but it's certainly about five years with the (state Department of Toxic Substances Control) being involved, I'm going to say to you they are starting to do some good, positive work.
The other work was foolish, and I have a lot of other words I could add to that.
Signal: You mean the development proposal for 2,900 homes on the Bermite property.
Worden-Roberts: You bet. Twenty-nine hundred homes is ridiculous. It still is ridiculous today. Would I say more about the roads? I think that we have an opportunity to build some safe roads. I am not sure that DTSC or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be supportive of building some of those roads that were proposed I think foolishly proposed. Before we begin any road development there, there has to be a very good concurrence with (those agencies).
There is an opportunity, I believe, in the near future, not quite yet, for a road to be built from Via Princessa over to Whites Canyon Road. That's the southerly portion of it. That one looks like it's the most potentially accessible in the near future.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.