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Atherton, Menlo Park councils blast high-speed rail plans

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  • 2/6 Menlo Park Almanac
    Published Wednesday, February 6, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac Atherton, Menlo Park councils slam plans for high-speed rail Big concerns over impact of grade
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2008
      Published Wednesday, February 6, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac

      Atherton, Menlo Park councils slam plans for high-speed rail
      Big concerns over impact of grade separations on local communities.

      By Rory Brown

      Local critics of California High Speed Rail are keyed up after city
      council members from Menlo Park and Atherton blasted plans for high-
      speed trains to zoom through the middle of both towns. But the fate
      of the long-planned rail project isn't up to officials from two
      towns -- the decision will fall in the hands of all California voters.

      Council members from both cities met Jan. 29 to talk about grade
      separations -- building overpasses or underpasses to separate the
      Caltrain tracks from the roadway at intersections. A key variable
      in the grade separation discussion is high-speed rail.

      The California High Speed Rail Authority is proposing a $40 billion
      train system that would transport passengers along a San Francisco-
      Central Valley-Los Angeles route at speeds up to 220 mph.

      The rail authority is planning to use the Caltrain corridor to
      connect San Jose to San Francisco, and wants to build two additional
      tracks along the Caltrain line to accommodate the faster trains.

      But a four-track system requires grade separations, according to
      state regulations, and that means the tracks and roadway would need
      to be separated at six local streets: Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood
      and Encinal avenues in Menlo Park, and Watkins Avenue and Fair Oaks
      Lane in Atherton.

      The required grade separations, although paid for by the rail
      authority, would mean calamity to local communities, according to
      most council members.

      "I think high-speed rail up the Peninsula is a disaster," said Menlo
      Park Councilman Richard Cline -- a notion Atherton Councilman Charles
      Marsala was quick to second, comparing grade separations to the giant
      asteroid in the film "Armageddon."

      The strong opposition excited local critics of high-speed rail, who
      have long argued that constructing grade separations would worsen
      congestion, be more costly, and severely impact nearby homes and
      businesses, as the state may want to obtain land outside of the
      current Caltrain right of way.

      "There's the NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue here, for one," said
      Menlo Park resident Martin Engel after the meeting. "But this beyond-
      expensive project, given the state budget, is the most incredibly
      stupid idea for California, whether or not it's in [Menlo Park's]
      backyard."

      Mr. Engel, who lives adjacent to the tracks, is starting a nonprofit
      group with neighbors Morris Brown and Mike Brady called "Derail" to
      oppose the high-speed rail project.

      Proponents

      Local proponents say grade separations would allow traffic, bicycles,
      and pedestrians to pass over or under the tracks, reducing congestion
      and improving safety. Supporters also say the project has huge
      environmental benefits, with the potential to take cars off crowded
      freeways.

      "I think the [Menlo Park and Atherton] council members missed the
      mark," said Jim Bigelow, chairman of the Menlo Park Chamber of
      Commerce Transportation Committee. "There needs to be some political
      reality ... and these council members need to get a lot more
      informed."

      Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle didn't declare support for high-
      speed rail or grade separations, but after the meeting he questioned
      the reasoning behind his colleagues' opposition.

      "For individual council members to take a position on high-speed
      rail, when we haven't had discussions about it as a council, I think
      that's premature," he said. "It's better to engage and work with
      [state transportation groups] rather than just say, 'Hell no.'"

      Up to the voters

      High-speed rail depends on the approval of a $10 billion bond measure
      slated for the November ballot.

      The bond needs a majority vote (50 percent plus one) to pass, and
      further study and planning would get under way for the San Francisco-
      to-Los Angeles connection. The rail authority has proposed building
      the system as far north as Sacramento and as far south as San Diego.

      Atherton Councilman Jerry Carlson said the state's efforts should
      focus on improving local transit networks rather than connecting the
      northern and southern parts of the state [BATN: and that big valley
      filled with lots of fast-growing people-filled cities in the middle].

      "It's too bad it's not a $10 billion bond measure to work on regional
      transportation," Mr. Carlson said. "High-speed rail only helps some
      people." [BATN: Yes, only the ones who breathe or drive or fly or
      are concerned about warming or profligate transportation energy use.]

      Mayors Andy Cohen of Menlo Park and Jim Janz of Atherton also opposed
      plans for high-speed rail and grade separations, but had to do so as
      citizens during the public comment period of the meeting. Both
      councilmen own homes adjacent to the Caltrain tracks, presenting a
      potential conflict of interest.


      [BATN: See also:

      Letter: HSR NIMBYs along Caltrain corridor incredible
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37215

      Menlo Park, Atherton fear HSR, Caltrain grade seps "disaster"
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37173

      Menlo Park, Atherton councils to study Caltrain grade seps tonight
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37131

      Letter: Can anti-transit Menlo Park mayor Cohen lead on transit?
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37064

      Menlo Park again ponders Caltrain grade crossing separations
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36691

      Menlo Park to hold study session on Caltrain grade separations
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36517

      Editorial: Menlo Park faces tough choice on Caltrain grade seps
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36454

      Caltrain grade separation issue looms for Menlo Park
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36453

      Menlo may lose funds to plan Caltrain grade seps, Dumbarton station
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36385 ]
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