Transit advocates, riders celebrate opening of light rail’s south line

Sacramento Regional Transit opened its long-awaited Blue Line light-rail extension Monday in a festive celebration that included cowbells, streamers shot from cannons, a marching band and speeches.

First-day riders, for their part, offered generally positive reviews of the new 4.3-mile line.

The $260 million rail extension connects Cosumnes River College to other area campuses and offers south-county commuters an alternative to crowded Highway 99 and Interstate 5. The college station includes a 2,000-spot parking garage shared by students and commuters.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred elected officials and transit supporters in the parking lot next to the college station, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and Regional Transit Chief Mike Wiley called the moment a watershed for Sacramento.

Matsui said the extension is part of an effort to extend transit throughout the region. She highlighted the economic opportunities that come with increased mobility options.

“It is not just about regional connections, it is about economic connections,” she said. “It is about ensuring that the neighborhoods it goes through can prosper, be livable and grow.”

The new line runs south from Meadowview Road through the southernmost neighborhoods of the city of Sacramento into now-empty fields where a major development, Delta Shores, is expected to be built in the next few years. A partially built but unopened station is being readied to serve those future residents.

The line continues south to a new station at Franklin Boulevard near a soon-to-open extension of Cosumnes River Boulevard. By midmorning, the Franklin station’s parking lot was nearly full.

New rail rider John Igwe of Elk Grove got on a train there, pleased by the new commute option. But he lamented that Elk Grove e-tran does not yet provide a commuter bus to that station, although several e-tran buses serve the nearby college station. “If there is going to be cooperation (between RT and Elk Grove), e-tran needs a shuttle,” he said.

The line continues east from the Franklin station to a new stop serving the Valley Hi and Center Parkway residential areas before angling south on a rail bridge over Cosumnes River Boulevard to the terminus at the front of the college on Bruceville Road.

The college station seemed to get modest ridership Monday with college students arriving for the first weekday of fall semester classes and a smattering of commuters headed downtown. RT officials did not offer immediate estimates of ridership numbers. Over time, the agency projects that more than 11,000 riders a day will use the new stations, Wiley said.

Early reports from riders were positive. Trevor Stevenson, who works at Cosumnes River College, commuted on the train from Land Park, and said he plans to buy a monthly pass. “The convenience factor is amazing.”

Stevenson was one of several riders who disagreed with recent criticisms that the line is unclean and potentially dangerous. “I find it comical,” Stevenson said. “I don’t think you are going to get mugged riding to work at 8:30 a.m. It’s more dangerous in your car on the freeway with half-awake drivers texting.”

In an effort to assuage fears, RT security chief Norm Leong, a Sacramento police captain, manned a booth on the station platform answering questions and soliciting riders to sign up for a program co-sponsored by the city of Elk Grove called “Rider Alert.” Similar to a neighborhood watch program, Rider Alert is designed to create a sense of community among commuters and to offer tips about riding and communicating concerns to RT officials.

Gerald Maginnity, who normally takes an e-tran bus to work downtown, gave the new line a tryout. He said he liked the fact that trains come every 15 minutes past the regular commute hour. When work gets hectic, he said he won’t have to worry about missing the last bus of the day back home. “So far, so good,” he said on board an inbound morning train.

Elk Grove resident Julianna Singleton, who took the new line Monday from Cosumnes River College to her work at Sacramento City College, was among those eager to ride. “I’ve been waiting for years for this,” she said. Her son dropped her off from home less than a mile away. “This is superconvenient.”

RT officials say they hope next to extend the light-rail system through Natomas to Sacramento International Airport, and to add a streetcar connector line in downtown Sacramento and in West Sacramento. RT and Elk Grove officials said they also would like eventually to extend the Blue Line all the way into Elk Grove.

Campus officials and federal representatives lauded the connection to the campus. Federal Transit Administration acting chief Therese McMillan, in town for the opening, noted that 40 percent of the students at Cosumnes River College come from families living below the poverty line. “Quality transportation means a chance not only to get from home to school, but also for internships, jobs and cultural events throughout the city,” she said.

McMillan also made a case for more federal investment in transportation alternatives. “Sacramento is growing, and that growth could bring increased congestion and greater pollution. That is why we need to invest in high-quality public transportation systems just like this one.”

Former City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, who championed the extension, smashed a champagne bottle on a ceremonial train Monday. She later received a standing ovation from transit advocates during the ceremony.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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