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Goleta Chamber Leaders Ponder Commuter-Rail Program Progress

At roundtable luncheon, business leaders hear update on proposed commuter train from Ventura County

Passengers wait at the Goleta Amtrak station for a train down south. Goleta city and business leaders listened Tuesday to a presentation updating the plan to get a commuter rail program in the city.
Passengers wait at the Goleta Amtrak station for a train down south. Goleta city and business leaders listened Tuesday to a presentation updating the plan to get a commuter rail program in the city.      (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

When Goleta gets a commuter rail program in fall 2016 — if plans aren’t further delayed — business owners should have an idea of how many employees would use it and ways to encourage more to jump on board.

That was the homework Tuesday from Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kristen Miller, who heard an update on the rail progress alongside members and city leaders.  

The group ate sandwiches in the comfort of an air-conditioned Santa Barbara Airbus, which was parked near Goleta’s La Patera Amtrak Station.

About 30,000 people commute daily into the South Coast from Ventura County and northern Santa Barbara County, according to Peter Brown, chair of the chamber’s policy roundtable luncheon series.

He gave the floor to Gregg Hart, a spokesperson for Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and a Santa Barbara city councilman.

The rail program was further delayed from spring to fall 2016, Hart said, because of a disconnect between who owns the rails (Union Pacific Railroad), who needs to use it (cities and Amtrak as operator), and how much it will cost.

SBCAG has been working on a newly timed Pacific Surfliner commuter route in addition to Highway 101 widening duties for decades.

The idea is to replace a current route — that takes passengers from Ventura County to Santa Barbara/Goleta at 10 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m. — with one for commuters, arriving by 8 a.m. and leaving after 5 p.m., Hart said.

That could double the number of folks using the Goleta Amtrak station each day, which is 100, and help alleviate freeway congestion for the 15,000 people driving up from Ventura County.

A plan is underway to alter the commuter train schedule from Ventura County to Goleta so more people can use the daily service. Click to view larger
A plan is underway to alter the commuter train schedule from Ventura County to Goleta so more people can use the daily service.  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

“That number is projected to increase significantly,” Hart said, adding that baby boomers will soon retire and remain in their homes, meaning younger people hired to take their place have fewer local affordable housing options.

The rail would be faster than driving, he said, but then passengers need to get from train stations to work.

Three buses — possibly MTD Santa Barbara or Clean Air Express — could possibly transport passengers to three different Goleta stops in Old Town, the business park or UC Santa Barbara.

Hart said the long-term goal is getting a separate stop in the business park area, where some 5,000 employees work.

Rail prices would compete with bus tickets, with some attendees suggesting a business could offer employees monthly passes or bikes that could be rented at the station.

Goleta expects to spend $1.3 million to upgrade the city station’s sidewalks and to add bike lanes, more bathrooms and more lighting, public works director Rosemarie Gaglione said.

With an eye on the future, City Manager Michelle Greene said Goleta was in initial talks with Direct Relief to possibly purchase the nonprofit’s warehouse, which is adjacent to the train station.

Direct Relief plans to move out of its South Patera Lane facilities in coming years and into a yet-to-be-built facility on nearby Santa Barbara Airport land.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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