Published Thursday, November 5, 2009, by the San Mateo Daily Journal
High-speed rail trying to build consensus
By Bill Silverfarb
The Peninsula Rail Program has initiated a new strategy called Context Sensitive Solutions to allow the public to have collaborative input into the design of high-speed trains that will eventually race up the Peninsula.
The objective is to bring representatives from all 17 cities along the Caltrain corridor to map the corridor as a whole, said Dominic Spaethling, director of the PRP between San Jose and San Francisco.
The PRP is the local arm of the California High Speed Rail Authority, mandated to construct a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco, approved by voters by the passage of Proposition 1A a year ago. Voters approved $9 billion for the project that is expected to cost upward of $40 billion.
The purpose is to draw ideas and goals from the cities' respective elected officials and city staff to develop a consensus on a draft alternatives analysis to determine if the tracks will ultimately be buried underground or above grade, for instance.
It is a process rail officials admitted can often be adversarial.
Hal Kassoff, vice president of Parsons Brinckehoff in Washington D.C., is an engineer and expert on Context Sensitive Solutions. He spoke to the group of about 70 representatives from various Peninsula cities on the benefits of using CSS to build consensus on the project in a presentation at the Burlingame Library yesterday afternoon.
"Technical standards are a necessity," Kassoff said. "But the project can be looked at in a broader framework that will not only serve transportation needs but enhance the quality of the communities it serves. The intent is to find a solution that will be universally embraced by the entire region."
CSS is a collaborative, inter-disciplinary approach with the goals to preserve and enhance scenic beauty, aesthetics, historical and environmental resources, Kassoff said.
It is a trial-and-error process that puts as much importance on the contextual aspect of the project as it does the transportation aspect. It is a process that involves broad thinking from a diverse group that should be flexible and adaptive to meet the needs of the entire region, he said.
CSS is a tool that could bridge the gap between members of rival communities who may have different opinions on how the tracks should be configured.
But since the Peninsula Joint Powers Board has already reached an agreement with CHSR to use the Caltrain right-of-way for high-speed trains, Belmont Councilwoman Christine Wozniak called yesterday's meeting "CSS-light."
Wozniak has previously said in council meetings that high-speed rail offers no benefit to Belmont and may impede the city's ability to garner revenue out of property the city intends to redevelop around the tracks at Ralston Avenue.
Leading up to Tuesday's election, many Belmont council candidates, including Warren Lieberman and Dave Warden, said they did not believe high-speed trains would ever become a reality on the Peninsula.
The PRP has made outreach to individual cities and is now intent on creating a broader dialogue that includes input from the entire region.
San Bruno Councilman Irene O'Connell has concerns with grade separation projects already intended in her city and what the impacts of high-speed trains would have on that project.
Burlingame Councilwoman Terry Nagel expressed concern about the time commitments elected officials and city staff would have to spend by participating in the process. Maintaining continuity in the process as some elected officials might come and go over the next year and a half was a concern as the PRP intends to have a final draft Environmental Impact Report on the alternatives analysis by the beginning of 2011.
Participants in yesterday's workshop were able to express their desires related to the project and what some of the issues each city might face, including parking and traffic impacts, neighborhood connectivity and whether the final product would split cities in two. Noise and vibration were also a concern as broadening community outreach to include as many interested parties in the process as possible.
Many participants in the workshop favored burying the tracks underground.
Kassoff will explain CSS tomorrow during the Peninsula Cities Consortium meeting at 8:45 a.m. The meeting is open to the public and will take place in the Council Chambers at Burlingame City Hall, 501 Primrose Road.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: silverfarb@...
or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.
[BATN: See also:
Peninsula HSR planning to employ context sensitive solutions (CSS)
Peninsula Cities Consortium meetings to introduce HSR CSS process
CSS expert to explain community input process for Peninsula HSR