The high-speed train is slow to arrive in San Jose
A new poll suggests strong public support for California’s ambitious high-speed rail project, but the challenges of stretching it to San Jose are daunting.
The Institute for Government Studies at UC Berkeley reported that California voters favored going ahead with the high-speed rail project by a five-to-three margin. The poll, which looked at a range of issues voters want the state to address, was administered online to 8,676 California residents in English and Spanish. The results are likely subject to a sampling error of about plus or minus 2%.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll for the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley, told San Jose Spotlight that it cannot be easily compared to previous surveys of the popularity of the railroad project. But he said the results show majority support for the truncated version of the draft.
“We’re now in 2022, it’s a long way off, and it’s been 14 years, but voters wanted to move forward even in its abbreviated form,” DiCamillo said.
In 2008, California voters approved bonds to design and build a high-speed rail system that would run from San Diego to Sacramento by 2030. Cost overruns and delays have extended the schedule: the current plan of the State is planning a rail line linking Bakersfield to Merced. by 2030, then the Bay Area by 2033. According to the state’s latest estimate, completing the full route from Los Angeles to San Francisco could take $105 billion.
The high-speed rail line would feed into San Jose via Diridon Station, which is already on its way to becoming a major transit hub thanks to the expansion of BART from the north. At a recent VTA board meeting, California High-Speed Rail Authority officials said the project would require a tunnel through the Pacheco Pass to connect the Central Valley to Gilroy and then in San Jose. A final environmental impact report will be received by the authority’s board later this month.
According to a high-speed rail spokesperson, the connection between Silicon Valley and Central Valley is expected to generate nearly $50 billion in economic output.
“It’s encouraging to know that the people of California are excited about the promise of the nation’s first high-speed rail system,” Anthony Lopez, spokesman for the High-Speed Rail Authority, told San Jose Spotlight. “We look forward to advancing this project and bringing the high-speed train into service by the end of the decade.”
Speeding through San José
Local officials and transit advocates are optimistic about the project’s potential impact on San Jose. Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who chairs the VTA board, told San Jose Spotlight he thinks the high-speed train will turn Diridon into the equivalent of New York’s Grand Central Station on the coast. west.
“You’re going to have BARTs, light rail, buses and trains coming into this station, and the arrival of high-speed trains will also bring tens of thousands of passengers into downtown San Jose,” said Jones. “The economic benefit of this alone is enormous.”
Derrick Seaver, president and CEO of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not surprised people are supporting the project, especially given the return of overwhelming traffic as the pandemic recedes. The Berkeley poll noted that four in 10 respondents are experiencing serious problems due to rising gas prices.
Seaver said the project has many benefits for the local economy, although he is concerned about construction.
“The battle the business community is waging is over mitigation costs: where is construction going to take place? What will mitigation look like? Seaver told San Jose Spotlight. “Downtown San Jose already has a lot of activity, with the BART project coming downtown, so that would be another thing they should be working on.”
Jones noted that the project will also allow more people to travel to San Jose from the Central Valley, where there are more opportunities for people to find affordable housing. Besides the challenges of tunneling under the mountains that separate Silicon Valley from the Central Valley, Jones said he was concerned about how the trains would pass through San Jose.
“It’s a big discussion in terms of class jumping. Do you want a train going 110 or 125 miles per hour at ground level and crossing major intersections? Jones said. “Imagine the safety issues for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.”
Monica Mallon, public transit advocate and San José Spotlight columnist, believes the high-speed rail will be a major improvement over Amtrak, which she says is too slow. She said the biggest hurdle will come down to money.
“The funding wasn’t what (the bullet train staff) expected it to be,” Mallon told San Jose Spotlight. “I think they expected the private sector to step in a bit more and contribute.”