Thursday, July 10, 2008

High speed rail bond and Pacheco Pass opposition

Yesterday the California High Speed Rail Authority certified the final environmental impact report for the selection of the Pacheco Pass alignment between the Bay Area and Central Valley. It was an important news considering that the high speed rail bond (Proposition 1) will appear on the ballot this November.

Many environmental groups are still opposed to the selection of the Pacheco alignment and consider the environmental impact report fatally flawed.

In the meantime, the high speed rail bond is still on the ballot. Would these groups treat the bond measure separately from the environmental impact report, or would they oppose the bond measure as well because of their opposition to the environmental impact report?

There's no easy answer. Simply, for the environmental community, high speed rail is an important element in reducing greenhouses gases and change our transportation and possibly landuse pattern for the long term. For the last few years, these groups have been a champion to maintain funding to the HSRA when Governor Schwarzenegger threatened to cut the authority's budget substantially.

On the other hand, the Pacheco Pass alignment is unacceptable to them. High Speed Rail Authority chose Pacheco over Altamont primarily for political reasons (driven by Rod Diridon). Also, the Pacheco Pass alignment could eventually drive development in the Los Banos area. Some members of the environmental community believe the alignment issue can only be resolved when the HSRA is disbanded, which means the high speed rail bond measure must be defeated at the ballot box and have the process start over.

Considering a possible opposition from the environmental community, as well as key issues related to getting matching funds from the federal government and the private sector, Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani introduced a bill (AB 3034) that would amend the bond measure. That bill is currently in the state senate. It is in the best interest for all parties that the bond measure be amended to satisfy the environmental group's concerns, which would allow them to support it and ensure successful passage at the ballot box.


Jonah P said...

Can you talk a bit more about why environmental groups are opposed to the Pacheco alignment? I'm not really up on the issue, and would like more info.

At first glance, both the Altamont and Pacheco alignments have merits and flaws, though (purely selfishly) the 10 minute difference is significant to me (living on the Peninsula). It also seems (to me) that the concerns about sprawl are a bit overemphasized, as we're entering the end of cheap oil (not to mention available water), and communities will inevitably compress.

I apologize for my underinformed views. I'm not sure where good resources are on this issue.

accountablevta said...

This article sums up the reasons why environmental groups are opposed to Pacheco Pass.

accountablevta said...

Which is here:

295bus said...

The main reason to prefer Altamont over Pacheco is that it's a way more useful route.

- It provides high-speed service
where ACE runs now (where
*lots* of people live,
unlike Los Banos).

- It makes HSR useful to get
to/from Sacto.

- It could connect with BART in
Fremont, and make BART->SJ

Maybe the third item is the real reason SJ transportation insiders don't like it?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to vote against this in November. Please see the following article:

Some arguments carry more weight than others.

A strong argument is cost. Right now the official estimate is $40 BILLION. But of course we all no that all large infrastructure projects like the Big Dig, new Bay Bridge, MIA's North Terminal, will always go over budget. It's part of the plan for, once the project is started government says "in for a penny, in for a pound" and pays the overruns.

Note that the author is from Menlo Park, a city full of NIMBYs. Normally I'd take such article with a grain of salt, but Martin Engel makes some good points.

Another problem is the route on both ends. Rather than go directly from LA to Bakersfield over the I-5/Grapevine route, for political reasons the planners routed the thing via the Antelope Vally to serve Palmdale and Lancaster. On the North end, they opted for Pacheco instead of Altamont. Why is that flawed? See this map:

Going vis pacheco [the blue line] means that a future Sacramento extension will cost much more. [see cost overrun discussion above]

Finally, anybody who buys those promises of $55 SF-LA tickets hasn't checked rail fares on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between Boston, NY and DC. Those fares are in the triple digits. No reason not to believe the CAHSR fares won't be at the same level or higher, unless you subsidize it big time.

I can't support CA HSR as presented in this plan.

295bus said...

I'm leaning, somewhat sadly, towards a "no" vote. I wrote up my reasons here:

It basically comes down to: our country is not smart enough yet for HSR. We should work our way up to it through baby steps like just running conventional trains well.

accountablevta said...

I am more inclined to vote yes, depending on the outcome from AB 3034. The reason is that for now the bond is the best way to fund high speed rail and Caltrain improvements. The battle between Pacheco vs. Altamont can be deferred after the election.

HSR is indeed expensive, but California needs to catch up with other European and Asian countries. A successful passage help encourage the federal government and the private sector to chip in.

As to the Acela fares, it is largely market driven. That's how the corridor can sustain itself. Fortunately, the popularity of the train also encourage competition by buses, which provide more affordable trips for others.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the proposed HSR system, what will the fares be?

This article says “The estimated price for high-speed rail tickets from Los Angeles to San Francisco is expected to be around $55.”

How realistic is that? How can you make an operating profit on $55 tickets in 2020 dollars to pay for the extensions? Someone needs to ask this question.

The SF-LA distance is approximately 382 miles, compared to 441 miles from DC to Boston. Checking for this Friday, Amtrak’s fares range from $124 to $217 in current dollars. On Saturday, a day with fewer business travelers about, fares range from $87 to $169.

Now think back to CAHSR. It won’t be up and running for years. Does anybody think that they’ll charge $55 and make an operating profit? I don’t.

High-speed rail might be a good concept. It might help get cars off of the road. But the current plan is flawed, and it asks us to believe it can make an operating profit with ridiculously low fares. On top of this, the bonds will just add to the pile of debt that California needs to pay off. And the $40 Billion price tag will escalate to $60 or $80 like the Big Dig did.

I can’t vote for this.