by Josh Koehn on Nov 16, 2011
BAY TO LA California's high-speed rail will cost an estimated $98 billion and take 20 years to complete—and might skip Silicon Valley.
Two Silicon Valley cities are standing in the way of high-speed rail, according to fast transit cheerleaders, and California’s bullet train could bypass San Jose as a result.
A report released Monday by the High-Speed Rail Authority reiterates the authority’s consistent argument: A tunnel and underground station will not work in San Jose. Business and neighborhood groups worry that the proposed elevated structure will be a huge and unsightly addition to the cityscape.
What the report does not say — yet it is being discussed internally by HSRA officials — is that the city’s advocacy of a tunnel option could push the $98 billion high-speed rail line to take an alternative path.
Commonly dismissed as absurd by Silicon Valley’s mass transit proponents, the alternative high-speed rail connection from Southern California and the Central Valley would use the Altamont Pass in the East Bay as its gateway to San Francisco. The idea has been thrown out in the past. It is gaining steam now on the heels of last week’s legal ruling, which forces HSRA to reopen environmental analysis of the stretch through the Pacheco Pass between the Central Valley and Gilroy.
“If we can’t come to some sort of resolution, the authority will ultimately have to look at other alternatives,” says Dan Leavitt, a deputy director with HSRA. Leavitt admits that, as of right now, the only alternative stop in between Fresno and the peninsula is Altamont.
HSRA officials came to San Jose in late October to express their opposition to examining a tunnel option. Roelof van Ark, CEO of HSRA, and Leavitt met with Mayor Chuck Reed and his staff for almost an hour, but city officials exited the meeting unmoved.
“[HSRA has] consistently, from the very first time, said that they think a tunnel option is not constructible and will not be permitted nor funded by the Federal Transit Administration,” Reed says. “It’s not that I agree or disagree with them. I’m not an engineer.”
Reed has aligned with councilmembers Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio, whose constituents will be affected by an aerial high-speed rail line, says Rod Diridon. The former Santa Clara County supervisor and longest-serving HSRA member until late last year, says the additional cost of mining tunnels, along with groundwater issues, make any complaints about the aerial bridge’s noise and aesthetics moot.
“There is a groundwater lake underneath us in San Jose. The only way you can stabilize it is to inject chemically-treated grout, like a slurry cement,” Diridon says. “What you would be doing, in effect, is building a long dam across the groundwater. In the future, water is going to be much more valuable than petroleum, and to think of us putting chemically treated grout into our ground water is absolutely ridiculous.”