In a super crowded meeting room in San Francisco on August 5th the California High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) board eliminated everything that the peninsula cities wanted. Alternatives that would have allowed the well established residential communities to co-exist with High Speed Rail trains in the least destructive manner were gone.
In the Authorities flyers it said, they “listened” to the communities in 30 meetings and they responded to the peninsula cities. And the message wasn’t “I love you.”
Tunneling, as predicted, was taken off the table due to cost as was the covered trench and the stacked train designs underground that some of the peninsula cities wanted.
Peninsula wide what remains are various undesirable design options such as 4 tracks: side by side at ground level (likely to require eminent domain in the tighter areas), open trenches or elevated tracks (which means a high above ground solution). The last choice, elevated or aerial, is the most visually impactful, the noisiest and has the greatest impact should a significant earthquake hit. It is also the cheapest of all design options. This last design option was the only option that was submitted as part of the Federal ARRA fund application sent to DC August 6th.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) says under Purpose, (PRC Section 21002.1),”Because an EIR must identify ways to mitigate or avoid the significant effects that a project may have on the environment …the discussion of alternatives shall focus on alternatives to the project or its location which are capable of avoiding or substantially lessening any significant effects of the project, even if these alternatives would impede to some degree the attainment of the project objectives or would be more costly.”
The law does not have a provision for, “we can’t afford it.”
In building the High Speed Rail project, federal funding is of the utmost importance and federal funding is the only source of truly free money.
Recently the federal government has let it be known that they want ARRA funds to go to one segment at a time and the San Francisco to San Jose Corridor may not “go first.” The feds will choose out of the four segments submitted for funding. Those are Merced to Fresno, Bakersfield to Fresno, LA to Anaheim and for those three segments the money will primarily fund track and signaling work and the San Francisco to San Jose will help fund the electrification of Caltrain between SF and SJ and the building of a mid-peninsula station.
Regarding the SF to SJ segment, there is the question whether Caltrain meets the intercity passenger rail service definition. Next, the selection of electrification as the independent utility required by the federal government is seen as not typical in “logical engineering” practice per Mr. van Ark. Independent utility means the fed wants the funds used for improvements that are “tangible and measurable” to improve High Speed Rail/Intercity passenger Rail service that endures if the project funding does not continue.
It is also possible that the environmental impact process may not be completed in time, which would automatically eliminate funding possibilities for any segment not completed.
In the Admin /Executive teleconference call of July 30th, the following exchange took place:
Roelof van Ark: Caltrain would meet operational utility requirements although we stall on an open issue with the FRA, although they allowed and have not given us anything in writing about this, they do query whether this does meet operational utility because the Caltrain service is not necessary an intercity operation. (ed. note: Routing may not be long enough to qualify) But we do not have an alternative there at the moment and we continue using Caltrain as the independent utility operator for that segment.
Quentin Kopp: Excuse me, I infer then that means there is no reasonable certainty of FRA acceptance of that contingent. [sic]
Curt Pringle: Mr. van Ark?
Van Ark: I don’t believe, and I asked staff if there is anything else to say to it, I don’t believe we’ve ever received anything in writing, but definitely verbally we have heard their concern about whether this particular service complies with an intercity service.
Kopp: thank you
Pringle: As it relates to just the electrification portion or any of the individual projects that were part of the original ARRA fund application?
Van Ark: You mean particularly related to this particular segment?
Van Ark: There is also a query about the feasibility of doing electrification to start off with , because doing electrification without a built out alignment or an agreed upon and constructed alignment, is not the normal logical engineering way of building a system of this type.
Later in the meeting, Chairman Pringle answered a question from a southern California about how, specifically, the application is being crafted.
Question from caller in Southern California: “As you mentioned, the utility qualification in the Bay area is in doubt. If it is not accepted, do you have another fallback strategy where another position, for example Anaheim to Fullerton might be [submitted] if they are not qualified under independent utility or is that money lost? And will FRA allow you to submit a new grant it’s [SF to SJ] not qualifying?”
Pringle: “All of these [4 segments submitted for eligibility] are fallback positions. There are four proposals that have been presented and in each of the proposals there is a use of 100% of the available ARRA funds presented under what’s known as point 2 in each of the four proposals.”And in each of the four proposals, under point 3, is what is being proposed for the new funds in fiscal 2010 appropriations.” See 13 page AgendaItem2-FederalFundingMemo.pdf
“So if any of these segments don’t meet their September 2011 environmental clearance or if the FRA says any of these segments cannot proceed, then each of the other segments has a stronger position to receive that funding, So if somewhere along the way, anyone of those segments falls out for any of those reasons, then the remaining 3, 2, or 1 segment would be certainly be able to use those funds.”
See full transcript regarding this segment July 30th ARRA application meeting
To read the information about newest ARRA application. ARRA Application