As California High Speed Rail fights for its life in Sacramento, the agency leading the project is moving forward with plans to bring the railroad to San Francisco.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSR) released the final version on June 10 environmental impact report for the San Francisco-San Jose section of the project. If the report is approved by the authority’s board of directors in August, the project will be environmentally cleared from San Francisco to the northern part of Los Angeles County.
“It’s a big deal,” said Boris Lipkin, the rail authority’s Northern California regional director. “It puts us in a position to move the program forward and move it towards construction. So it’s an exciting time.
But even as it clears regulatory milestones, the project continues to face major hurdles in the state Capitol, where lawmakers are still debating whether to allocate the rest of the bond approved by lawmakers. 2008 voters to the draft. Peninsular towns along the proposed route are also resisting, with at least two threatening to continue CAHSR’s plans.
The $5.3 billion segment from San Francisco to San Jose would continue along the existing Caltrain tracks from Fourth and King Streets to past San Jose’s Diridon Station. The Caltrain Underbuild electrification projectwhich the authority has partially funded, would power the high-speed trains.
A separate project, known as City center extension, would bring Caltrain and High Speed Rail trains from Fourth and King streets to the downtown Salesforce Transit Center. This project is environmentally licensed and in line for federal funding. Another even more conceptual project, known as the Pennsylvania Avenue Extension, would continue this tunnel through Mission Bay and Potrero Hill.
Much of the work described in the environmental impact report will involve straightening tracks, reinforcing level crossings and barriers and modifying existing Caltrain stations to accommodate trains traveling at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour. Currently, the maximum speed on the corridor is 79 mph. Once the system is complete, the trip between San Francisco and San José will take 29 minutes.
Another major component of the project is a 100-acre maintenance facility in Brisbane. According to the railway authority’s preferred alternative, the facility would be on the east side of the tracks, covering a landfill and land zoned for commercial use. Brisbane vehemently opposes the maintenance facility.
“The project is going through the city with a wrecking ball,” said Brisbane City Manager Clayton Holstine. City concerns include the ‘100-acre monstrosity’ that is the maintenance facility, as well as the authority’s plan to reroute Tunnel Road, the main entrance to Brisbane city centre, and relocate its barracks of firefighters.
“They acted like an arrogant beast of the state sneaking into a small community,” Holstine said. He believes the ’24-hour industrial facility’ will negatively impact the massive Baylands development across the lanes, which could house up to 2,200 homes. The maintenance facility would also prevent the development of a life sciences office campus which would be a major source of tax revenue for Brisbane.
Holstine believes the High Speed Rail Authority violated California’s Environmental Quality Act by failing to adequately consider alternative maintenance facilities at Bayview, South San Francisco and Gilroy, adding that Brisbane will likely sue. legal action against the project. The authority prefers the Brisbane location because it is a large, mostly vacant site that would allow trains to be repaired and cleaned near the San Francisco terminus.
Millbrae also opposed plans to expand the combined Millbrae Caltrain and BART station to serve high-speed trains as well. This is land that would encroach on an approved development, not yet under construction, known as Millbrae Serra Station, which would include 488 homes and offices. According to the authority’s Lipkin, Millbrae approved the development knowing that the land would likely be needed for the rail project.
Earlier in the environmental review process, the authority presented an alternative that would have affected a smaller part of the development. But Millbrae rejected the compromise and the authority is now recommending the original plan, which would allow for an operationally superior railway station and replace most of the Serra station development site with car parks.
Representatives for the Town of Millbrae and station developer Serra did not respond to a request for comment, but Millbrae Mayor Anne Oliva previously Told the San Mateo Daily Journal “obviously there’s going to be some kind of litigation here.”
Lipkin said the rail authority will continue to work with landowners to acquire the land it needs. “In most cases, we find a negotiated solution to any acquisition,” he said. “As a backstop to that, if we have the ownership to build the system, we have the ability to acquire it through eminent domain.”
The preferred alternative for the San Francisco-San Jose segment would cost $5.3 billion. This figure includes more than $1 billion which is double counted with the San Jose to Merced segment of the project, which was environmentally cleared earlier this year.
The cost of the San Francisco-San Jose segment is about three times higher than the authority projected in its 2022 business plan, due to inflation and growing uncertainty about the timing and funding of the project, according to the Mercury News reported. The cost of the entire high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Anaheim is currently estimated at $105 billion, though authority CEO Brian Kelly told Mercury News that figure could now reach $120 billion. .
Sacramento lawmakers are debating whether to allocate $4.2 billion in funds from the original high-speed rail bond approved by voters in 2008 as part of a transportation package that could also include funds for to end Caltrain Electrification Project. For the past year and a half, the bullet train has faced resistance from Southern California Democrats who joined their Republican colleagues in saying they have lost faith in it.
The $4.2 billion credit would provide the project with enough money to complete the high-speed rail tracks under construction linking Bakersfield and Merced in the Central Valley. Merced Station would transfer to conventional trains to Sacramento and the Bay Area.
To expand the high-speed rail system to the state’s major population centers and deliver on its promise of travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours will take billions more.
Among possible future funding sources, the authority is looking to federal programs created by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Lipkin said. He was also encouraged to see that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has included high-speed rail investment in its Planning the Bay Area 2050making the Bay Area the first region to discuss using local funds for the project.
The nation’s first and only true high-speed rail project, the California High-Speed Rail never received much support from the federal government. “When the highways were being built, 80% or 90% of the funds came from the federal government,” Lipkin said. “For high-speed rail, so far about 80% of our funding comes from the state.”