With the approval of Prop 1A last November, the HSRA is now in charge of a monumental task to build a high speed rail system in California.
HSRA and the Federal Railroad Administration have announced that they will prepare environmental documents for the San Francisco-San Jose HSR segment. Public meetings have been scheduled later this month:
San Mateo County: SamTrans Auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos, California, January 22, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
San Francisco: San Francisco State University, 835 Market Street, 6th Floor (Rooms 673-674), San Francisco, California, January 27, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.
Santa Clara County: Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, Great America Meeting Rooms 1 & 2, Santa Clara, California, January 29, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The environmental document approved in 2007 was programmatic-level, largely without detail information on specific designs and mitigation measures. The environmental document that they will prepare is project level, which will include details omitted in the prior documents.
Meanwhile, the HSRA will seek an agreement with Caltrain, which owns the rail corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. Although some have a very ambitious vision for the corridor, it could take a long time to implement (if not scaled down) because of the difficulty constructing in a highly active rail corridor (Caltrain service would continue) as well as obtaining matching funds mandated by Prop 1A.
Because of the state's budget crisis and poor economy, the state treasurer hasn't sold any of the HSR bonds needed to finance the consultant work. The agency could soon be running out of cash.
Although the wisdom of using state bonds to finance this project is certainly debatable, there's also a clear need to have a vision for an integrated statewide rail network. It is important to note that the same corridor for intercity high speed trains could be used by regional commuter trains.
One of the top reasons for opposing the BART project is that BART trains simply aren't compatible with high speed rail. The money that would be spent building BART tracks could only run trains as far as from Richmond. If VTA were more wise and visionary, it would have invested in an integrated network connecting the Central Valley and beyond.
Initially, Barack Obama's victory gave high hopes and expectations that the federal government would provide strong support for high speed rail and other transit projects throughout the country. Recently, some advocates are concerned that high speed rail could be left out of Obama's priorities.
Athough Democrats tend to be in support of pro-environmental programs, environmentalists are just one of many fractions in the Democratic coalition competing for attention. Groups that tend to support the existing highway based paradigm include labor unions, which are a major base of the Democratic Party. In addition, the Democratic administrations also tend to be more fiscally responsible than the Republicans, which only made the competition between various interests more intense.