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Panel to Decide on Allocating Transit Funds

Transportation: Officials meet today to earmark an expected $700,000 in state money for bus and railway projects in the county.

November 01, 1996|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — Flush with an expected $700,000 in state transportation funds, local transit planners are backing four projects from Piru to Oxnard for railway and bus improvements designed to lure tourists to Ventura County.

Ventura County Transportation Commission members are expected to earmark money today for a long-term parking lot at the Oxnard Transportation Center, a railway line extension in Piru, improvements to the Santa Paula depot and a new transit center at the Buenaventura Mall.

City and county officials have wanted to build the projects for some time but haven't had the funding.

With the state capital improvement money, however, the county and cities will receive a 50% match for each eligible project, said Carlos Hernandez, a planning manager at the county Transportation Commission.

"Normally cities would use their local dollars for these projects, but these funds allow the state to pitch in so they can afford these projects," he said.

County transportation officials made long-term parking at the Oxnard center the top priority for 1997-98, recommending that the commission designate $150,000 in state funds to help construct a parking area including cameras, lighting and better security.

Railroad track improvements in Piru rank second, with transit officials recommending $100,000 to help extend the Santa Paula Branch Line railway track to downtown Piru's Center Street.

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The Santa Paula railroad depot restoration program also would receive a $250,000 boost, and another $200,000 would be set aside for a bus and transit center at the Buenaventura Mall in Ventura.

The beneficiaries of the projects say the improvements will help spur tourism and economic development, as well as promote alternative modes of transportation.

"What we want to do is transform the Oxnard Transportation Center into a destination point," said Rita Johnson, who plans transit improvements for Oxnard and helped steer that city's application through the system.

"We want to create an atmosphere where people want to come and bring their families," she said. "There's a lot of coming and going traffic, and there hasn't been a place to locate folks' cars for weekends or longer."

Stan Garner is co-owner of Short Line Enterprises, which operates the tourist-based "Movie Train" winding through the citrus and avocado groves between Piru and Santa Paula.

Extending the Santa Paula Branch Line the quarter-mile to Center Street will enhance the atmosphere of the historic train ride, Garner said.

"It puts us right where the old railroad station used to be, which is the true center of town," Garner said. "Of course, that's not there anymore. But it all kind of adds to the historical flavor."

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In Santa Paula, the transit money will help pay for the newest phase of improvements to the historic railroad depot along 10th Street, where city officials hope to construct an inviting stop for tourists.

The project will include extending the platform, improving walkways and landscaping and adding a second shuttle stop.

Ventura city officials hope to build an outdoor transit center to park buses at the soon-to-be-remodeled Buenaventura Mall. They envision a 64,000-square-foot terminal to park buses and accommodate bicycles and lockers.

When the state transit funds are doled out during the upcoming fiscal year, Ventura County will receive between $580,000 and $872,000, Hernandez said.

If the county receives less than the $700,000 these four projects applied for, then the Ventura mall transit center could be bumped from the list of priorities.

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