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Metro Moves to Revive Canceled High Desert Freeway Project

10:45 AM PDT on August 2, 2021

The Metro Highway Program is posturing to shift High Desert Multi-Purpose Corridor money to widen the nearby SR-38 (pictured) instead. Photo via Google Street View

Remember that High Desert freeway project? The one that Caltrans canceled in 2019 due to legal pressure from environmentalists? It's back. Kind of.

Metro's $8 billion, 63-mile High Desert Corridor freeway was supposed to connect Palmdale/Lancaster to Victorville/Apple Valley/Adelanto in San Bernardino County. Officially called the High Desert Multi-Purpose Corridor (HDMC), the project has Measure M sales tax funding for the L.A. County portion: $170 million available now, slated for property acquisition, and $1.8 billion scheduled for 2063-2067 for construction. Metro's Measure R sales tax also had some High Desert Corridor funding: $33 million for environmental studies.

Metro's plan for the HDMC featured an 8-10 lane freeway, plus a bike path, solar panels, and high-speed rail.

Led by Climate Resolve, environmentalists sued to stop the project. When a judge found that the project's environmental studies were lacking, Caltrans agreed to essentially shelve the project, signing on to a settlement agreement that prohibits acquiring land for the freeway. The agreement leaves in place the approval of rail and bike components of the project.

Last year, the Metro board approved using some High Desert funds to study building the High Desert corridor's high-speed rail component. A high-speed rail corridor there could connect the California High-Speed Rail Authority's planned Palmdale Station to Brightline West (formerly known as XpressWest) rail service planned between Las Vegas and the Victorville area.

At the time it looked like the "multi-purpose" corridor would end up being high-speed rail combined with features like solar energy, water replenishment, and bikeways.

Then the Metro Highway Program started to pull the money back into a single purpose project: the planned widening of the SR-138.

According to a recent Metro Measure M highway projects status report, Metro is pursuing a "more practical and feasible alternative alignment to the HDC highway component... on the SR-138 in LA County and SR-18 in San Bernardino County between Palmdale and Victorville." Since April, Metro, Caltrans, and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority have worked on a Project Study Report, funded by High Desert Measure R funds. Some additional details on the PSR are available in the agenda packets from the North L.A. County Transportation Coalition Joint Powers Authority (essentially the Council of Governments for North County) .

(Note that this SR-138 project would be east of Palmdale. It is a different project than Metro's planned Northwest State Route 138 Corridor Improvement Project west of Lancaster. That project would widen an existing mostly two-lane SR-138 stretch to four- and six-lanes.)

The Metro Highway Program typically insists (wrongly) that they are just doing what the voters approved. Except this is often not the case. For this project, they would shift voter-approved High Desert Multi-Purpose Corridor funding to an entirely different site - a different project than what was planned and promoted when voters approved Measure M. Hopefully Metro carries through on the "multi-purpose" commitment that voters approved.

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