Fresno, California - I mean, this doesn’t really count as “news” given how obvious the positive reaction would be, but it’s still noteworthy that leaders in Silicon Valley welcomed the idea of building the Initial Operating Segment for high speed rail in the northern part of the state, from San José to Bakersfield:
“This would seriously be a game-changing win,” said Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who also sits on the California Transportation Commission. “One of the big winners would actually be our efforts to electrify Caltrain. High-speed rail comes to San Jose and we electrify Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco; the winner is everyone who depends on additional speed, with less noise and less pollution.”
…a northern route would be a boon for commuters who live in the affordable Central Valley and work in and around San Jose, said former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon Sr., who sat on the California High-Speed Rail Authority board until 2010 and strongly supports the bullet train.
“Right now we have 50,000 commuters every day coming north from the Central Valley,” he said. “Highway 152 and I-580 get jampacked, and it’s taking people 21/2 hours to come from Fresno to work.”
Guardino’s support is a big deal, suggesting local industry would really like to see this happen. And Diridon is right about the importance of providing a good alternative to driving on 152 and 580.
Others in San José are welcoming, but also aware of the challenges ahead, like the city’s mayor:
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’d heard rumblings that the city may be back in play for the early spur. Still, he said, he’s “not jumping for joy.”
“What would be good for San Jose and Silicon Valley would be to have a completed line that connects the entire state,” he said. “I’m not terribly interested in political battles over whether it gets to one city before another. I’m more interested in either getting it done completely, or focusing those dollars on intercity transit systems like BART.”
As an elected official who has to deal with the Legislature it’s understandable that Liccardo’s comments were measured. He’s aware that there may be some legislators from Southern California who are unhappy about this idea – though it is worth noting that so far, the comments quoted in the media have come from ex-legislators like Richard Katz.
Liccardo might also be thinking about the unresolved questions of how to get HSR tracks from Diridon Station to Gilroy – questions that helped lead the California High Speed Rail Authority to decide to put the IOS in the south:
When Diridon was on the rail board, the idea was to bring it north to the Bay Area. But he said it became problematic because there wasn’t consensus on what form or path it would take. So the southern option came to the fore.
Now “there may be a window of opportunity to have the San Jose extension be done first,” he said. But that would require a concerted effort and concrete decisions on a subject that concerns residents who live in areas that the tracks would cut through.
“If it ran adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way it can be done quickly and inexpensively,” Diridon said. But that route also cuts through San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, and the people there are “not excited about that,” he added.
An alternative such as a tunnel running between the Tamien and Diridon stations would be more acceptable to residents, but the added costs of putting the tracks underground would likely torpedo the plan, he said.
“We are talking about something that brings great benefits, but also comes with great impacts that no one takes lightly, nor should they,” said Guardino. “The outreach has to be thorough and thoughtful.”
There’s really no way to avoid these kinds of issues. Sometimes people who live near a proposed route don’t want it, and that opposition isn’t going to go away immediately or even in the space of a few years just because you focus on building somewhere else. Eventually the questions about how to build the HSR tracks south of Diridon Station were going to have to be answered, so that might as well happen now.
That said, the challenges facing an IOS from San José to Bakersfield pale in comparison to the challenges currently facing a Merced to LA route. The main unresolved issues along a northern IOS, as I understand them, are:
• How to get the tracks from Diridon Station south to the alignment along Monterey Road south of Tamien
• Where the Gilroy HSR station would go
• Any remaining (or potential) legal or environmental challenges to the routing east of Pacheco Pass, along the 152 corridor
• The final design of the Chowchilla Wye
Those are all much more easily resolved – and for a lower price – than the big challenge of how to get the tracks from Palmdale to Burbank, given the costs of a long tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains and the fact that such a route has just as much opposition as the Highway 14 route.
It’ll be interesting to see what Southern California elected leaders have to say about this plan, especially those in the Legislature. They might not have a problem with it, as long as projects such as run-through tracks at LA Union Station remain funded.