Redwood City sends HSRA scathing letter, may join PCC rail foes
- Published Wednesday, August 18, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Cities: Rail authority not listening
One asks feds to derail train's funding
In a scathing letter to the state High-Speed Rail Authority board, Mayor Jeff Ira said that Redwood city has "lost confidence" in the authority's willingness to come to an acceptable solution as to how the tracks will run through his city.
And Burlingame fired a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration yesterday, urging them to deny funding to the high-speed rail authority if it moves forward with plans to put an elevated track slicing through the city.
The authority agreed two weeks ago that aerial tracks are the only option for the route from Redwood City north to just outside of San Francisco.
The Redwood City letter <http://tinyurl.com/2be754r>, which was approved by a three-member high-speed rail subcommittee and sent to the authority Monday, is something of a turnabout for Redwood City, which so far has not joined the Peninsula Cities Consortium <http://peninsularail.com> consisting of five Peninsula cities -- Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame.
The PCC is complaining that the authority is not listening to local cities and the five cities are opposing a proposed aerial viaduct for high-speed trains running through much if not all of the Peninsula.
Ira's letter strongly criticizes the authority's "out-of-hand" dismissal of other track configurations, saying this is "astonishing."
The letter was directed to Bob Doty, the authority's director of the Peninsula rail program, and to the authority board.
Ira said it was sent out this week following the city's upset about the authority's decision to give Redwood City just one track configuration option -- aerial tracks.
This past year's collaborative discussions between the authority and Redwood City, as well as the city's effort to organize working groups to plan for the tracks, seem to have been "meaningless exercises."
The authority was not "forthright, open or sincere," Ira said in his letter.
While Redwood City has tried to pursue a respectful process, Ira said, he concludes that legal challenges are more effective than collaboration, since Menlo Park and Atherton, which filed a suit against the authority, still appear to have three options -- the aerial viaduct, ground level or a below-grade open trench.
High-speed rail decisions will impact his and other Peninsula cities for decades, if not centuries, Ira said, adding that it is critical that the authority view the rail system not simply as an engineering project, but also in terms of the train's impact on the community's quality of life.
Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline, who is chairing the PCC, said Ira's letter "sounds a lot like the letters we have written. It is good for Jeff (Ira) to take this position, and I hope that our cities can interact better."
Ira said it will be up to the subcommittee, composed of council members Barbara Pierce, Jeff Gee and Rosanne Faust, to determine if the city should now join the PCC.
A 'bowshot' from Burlingame'
In Burlingame, council member Jerry Deal called the city's missive to the Federal Railroad Administration "the bowshot."
"This is the first shot," said Deal at Monday night's council meeting. "There will be many more shots."
Burlingame is currently marked either for a track perched on pylons about 30 feet high -- known as an "aerial viaduct" -- or an open trench.
Syed Murtuza, Burlingame's public works director, told the council that an aerial structure would cost $257 million while an open trench would cost $522 million.
" 'Aerial orientation' and 'viaduct' are (rail authority) euphemisms for constructing the equivalent of a six- to eight-lane elevated freeway through the middle of our cities," said the letter.
The letter was addressed to Joseph C. Szabo, administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, and Ray Hood [sic], secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The authority recently submitted an application seeking $1 billion in additional federal funding.
"Where is the money coming from? I know all in Washington are wishing upon a falling star," said Burlingame resident Geraldine Led at Monday's council meeting. "We are the falling star."
Letter sent to many
The letter has also been sent to Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Several legislators have been copied on the letter, including Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Jerry Hill, Joe Simitian and the San Mateo County supervisors. The White House's Office of Urban Affairs also got a copy.
"What we tried to do is go beyond the railroad universe," council member Michael Brownrigg told the Post.
He gave the letter a final once-over after it was discussed at Monday's council meeting.
The letter even quotes Hood [sic] as saying in 2009, "The era of one-size-fits-all transportation projects must give way to one where preserving and enhancing unique community characteristics, be they rural or urban, is a primary mission of our work rather than an after-thought."
But the letter makes clear that the city is still in favor of high-speed rail running underneath the cities in the mid-Peninsula or along Highway 101 or Interstate 280.
It also urges the feds to fund Caltrain, which it calls "a real railroad project."
Anti-rail resolution suggested
Mayor Cathy Baylock, who signed the letter, has suggested the council also consider a stern anti-high-speed rail resolution like the one approved by the city of Orange in Southern California last month.
"We see it as an option but we are not willing to consider it right now," said Brownrigg. "But what happens over the next few weeks will determine if we will outright oppose it or continue to expect them to build it in a way that enhances (the community)."
Brownrigg said the High-Speed Rail Authority would make a great deal more friends if it just dropped the aerial structure option.
He said the aerial structure was as socially infeasible as deep-bore tunneling was economically infeasible.
The social cost with an aerial structure is too high, Brownrigg added.
[BATN: See also:
Redwood City very disappointed by HSR alternatives report
Redwood City "disappointed" in HSRA plan for aerial viaduct
Redwood City unhappy with aerial HSR plan; prefers tunnel or trench
Four mid-Peninsula cities to consider formally opposing HSR