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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today (Feb. 12) he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a project with an estimated cost that has ballooned to $77 billion.
High-speed rail would have used the Caltrain tracks on the Peninsula. The HSR project was fought by many residents on the Peninsula.
“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
The idea long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule. The latest estimate for completion is 2033.
Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction that’s already under way on a segment of the high-speed train from Bakersfield to Merced in the Central Valley, arguing it will revitalize the economically depressed region where farming suffered after the state reduced water allocations to protect threatened species.
He said he would exercise more oversight of the project and increase its transparency. He also appointed his economic development director, Lenny Mendonca, to chair the High Speed Rail Authority, replacing Dan Richard.
After California voters approved the high-speed rail program in 2008, Peninsula residents began to study the project’s plans and discovered it would result in four tracks along the Caltrain right-of-way, two for Caltrain and two for HSR.
They also discovered that the additional space needed for HSR would mean the government would have to seize homes and businesses along the right-of-way.
Another problem high-speed rail created was the need to separate the tracks from the street at railroad crossings, something planners call grade separations.
At $100 million to $200 million each, grade separations are expensive, which caused some cities to consider closing the street at a crossing rather than building a bridge over or under the tracks.
Palo Alto is in the midst of deciding what kind of grade separations it would like at four locations.
The options weren’t cheap or easy for residents to accept. One idea on the table was to put Caltrain and HSR in a trench or tunnel, though that would likely require reducing Alma Street to two lanes during construction. Another option is to elevate the track on a viaduct, though some say raising the train would amplify the noise from the train. An elevated train would also increase casualties in the event of a derailment.
Some may argue that the grade separations will still be necessary if Caltrain increases the frequency of its trains, which is expected after it switches to electric locomotives in 2022. But Newsom’s decision yesterday may lessen the urgency of deciding how to do grade separations in Palo Alto.
— From staff and wire reports