Published Friday, August 6, 2010, by the San Mateo Daily Journal
Options diminish for high-speed rail
By Bill Silverfarb
Daily Journal staff
High-speed trains may still run below grade in Burlingame, San Mateo and Atherton as alternatives for the Peninsula section of the statewide rail project have been narrowed down to essentially two options.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority conducted a five-hour meeting in San Francisco yesterday where lawmakers sparred with business leaders and rail foes heckled board members during a presentation by Bob Doty, of the Peninsula Rail Program, to the authority's board of directors with the final two design options for the San Francisco to San Jose segment of the line.
Design option "A" includes mostly at-grade and aerial structure options to travel the length of the corridor, including the construction of an elevated viaduct in Burlingame.
Design option "B" includes aerial, trench and tunnel designs for parts of the segment, including the possibility of a covered trench in downtown San Mateo that would replace an existing street.
Option "B" also includes an open trench from the Millbrae Caltrain station through Burlingame and downtown San Mateo. An open trench option is also being considered for Atherton.
Bored tunnels and cut-and-cover trenches, however, are not part of the final alternatives for Burlingame, a decision that does not sit well with city leaders.
"We are opposed to an aerial structure," said Burlingame Vice Mayor Terry Nagel, who spoke during 90 minutes of public comment at the meeting. "We are hoping a cut-and-cover alternative is still available to us."
Burlingame Councilman Michael Brownrigg also attended the meeting and blasted the authority for considering the construction of an aerial viaduct through the city.
"I don't believe President Obama wants to create blight," Brownrigg said about the aerial design option. He was also critical of the authority for building the project without knowing who will run it.
The authority has indicated it will seek private investment after construction starts on the project.
Burlingame residents have expressed concern about a viaduct dividing the city and its impact to the Burlingame Caltrain station and a grove of eucalyptus trees that line the track adjacent to the high school.
Meanwhile, the authority submitted four separate federal grant applications today to help jump-start construction on parts of the project, including the San Francisco to San Jose segment of the line. The authority is seeking $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a new station at Millbrae and to electrify the Caltrain line in its funding request.
The rail authority is planning a route with electrified bullet trains traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco and has been criticized for speedily getting the project shovel-ready to secure more federal funding. The project was awarded $2.5 billion in federal funding in May and state voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond in a November 2008 election to build the project. The estimated cost is expected to be more than $40 billion, although, critics say that number could double.
In San Mateo, the city has spent years developing its transit-corridor plan and has indicated tracks must be buried through downtown.
Support is high for the project with the underground option, said San Mateo Councilman David Lim.
"Support for an aerial structure drops to zero," Lim told the authority's board of directors.
More than 30 people addressed the board on Doty's presentation.
The meeting opened with 90 minutes of public comment that included state Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, criticizing the Bay Area Council's Jim Wunderman for calling members of the Peninsula Cities Consortium "obstructionist" in a letter sent out earlier this week.
The consortium is made up of city councilmembers from Burlingame, Belmont, Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto have sued the authority in an effort to force the reconsideration of taking the train over the Altamont Pass as opposed to the Pacheco Pass, the authority's preferred route.
Wunderman also addressed the board and said detractors on the Peninsula jeopardize the whole project.
Belmont Mayor Christine Wozniak urged the board to reconsider placing the tracks through the city underground.
Caltrain runs on an elevated berm through Belmont, which Wozniak called unpopular. Wozniak is concerned of the potential impacts to Ralston Avenue, Old County Road and El Camino Real where the city intends to one day redevelop.
"Keep the tunneling option in Belmont," Wozniak urged the board.
San Carlos Councilman Omar Ahmad praised the safety of grade separations but said the authority's local outreach effort has failed.
Ahmad suggested the authority fire the public relations firm that provides outreach to Peninsula residents on rail issues.
"You should consider a change," Ahmad said.
He also offered support for phased construction of the project on the Peninsula, which would give the authority more time to secure federal grants for constructing the line.
Board Chairman Curt Pringle, the mayor of Anaheim, reminded attendees of the meeting that the authority will continue to seek federal grants every year and that the environmental process must be completed before any money will be spent on construction.
"We have to consider all options. Asking for federal money doesn't eliminate any alternatives," Pringle said.
A modification to option "B" includes an open trench through Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and south to Sunnyvale.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority board conducts monthly meetings at various locations across the state. The board may make a decision on the two alternatives at its next meeting if the Peninsula Rail Program makes a recommendation on the two options.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: silverfarb@...
or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.