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This map illustrates potential alignments for the High Desert Corridor.

Another Step Forward for High Desert Corridor: Public Weighs In
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 10/2010

Recent public scoping meetings solicited input from the community on a new 63-mile freeway through the high desert.

[Click on photos to read captions.]

If you look at a map of the area between Palmdale and Victorville, one of the first things that strikes you is the lack of the major roads across this swath of desert. Caltrans, with its partner agencies, is in the beginning stages of a bold project to change that: a 63-mile freeway from the Antelope Valley Freeway (SR-14) to SR-18 in San Bernardino County.

The project is called the High Desert Corridor, aka “the new 138.” Four project-related public scoping meetings were held in late September, the purpose of which was to inform the affected communities about the corridor and solicit feedback. Project partners include Caltrans Districts 7 and 8, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), San Bernardino County, San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), and numerous cities involved in the High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Authority.

The idea isn’t new. Construction of a “Metropolitan Bypass” was proposed as early as the 1950s. Almost 50 years later, studies by Caltrans in 2002 and Metro in 2004 assessed the need for a freeway in the area and considered potential alignments. The new SR-138 will likely be constructed five to seven miles north of the existing SR-138.

Why put a freeway in the middle of the desert? “Up until the economic downturn, the high desert was a rapidly growing region, both in the Palmdale/Lancaster area and in the Victorville/Apple Valley area,” said Senior Environmental Planner Karl Price, whose branch is overseeing the Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA/ED) process. “The anticipation is that when the economy recovers, the high desert is going to grow rapidly again.”

Currently, the existing SR-138 is just two lanes in many places, heavily trafficked by trucks and commuters. Traffic volumes will only increase in the future, due in part to expansion of Palmdale Regional Airport, the opening of the Adelanto Gateway Logistics Center (a major hub for freight distribution), and development in high desert cities.

Clearly, the corridor will alleviate traffic congestion on the existing SR-138. But it will also reduce traffic on freeways in the Los Angeles basin. “The corridor will act as a bypass that will provide new access between Northern Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties,” said Price. “So, we expect some traffic relief and air quality improvements, but we still have to go through the environmental process.”

Price and his staff will undertake a broad range of environmental studies to identify potential impacts. The process will look at factors such as biological resources, cultural resources, community impacts, right of way and traffic studies, among others. The current plan is to complete the $29.6 million PA/ED phase by June 2013.

PA/ED is, of course, a preliminary stage in a massive project that will take many years to complete. The corridor will be built in phases, with the western and eastern ends beginning construction first, possibly as soon as 2016, said Project Manager Osama Megalla. It’s difficult to estimate how long the entire project might take – especially given the project’s scale and funding uncertainties – but Megalla said a completion date of 2020 to 2024 is realistic. The cost of the corridor will run about $3.5 billion.

For now, Price and his staff are focusing on PA/ED and reviewing community input collected during the public meetings. “Residents are familiar with the immediate area, and can comment on topics they feel should be analyzed, studied and evaluated.” said Price. “We appreciate and value their feedback.”

Caltrans staff greet members of the public at a public scoping meeting held September 27 in Palmdale to solicit input on the High Desert Corridor project. A 'by-pass freeway' is shown on this old freeway Master Plan from 1958. Although the eastern and western ends of the High Desert Corridor are developed, much of the land in the middle is unoccupied desert.