While some cities on the Peninsula waste taxpayer money on lawsuits, others are adopting a more constructive approach to dealing with the impact of high speed rail on their cities. One such city is Mountain View:
To allow the high speed trains to safely flash through the Caltrain corridor means numerous design challenges, some of which residents may not like. Trickiest of all is downtown, where there is little room at the train station for two additional tracks. As for Castro Street, either a grade crossing must be built or the street will be closed off.
"Something has got to give or something has to go up or down," said Bob Kagiyama, senior public works engineer.
That something could be Castro Street itself, which, according to an old city report, would have to be below-grade for half of Castro's historic 100 block if it were to go under the train tracks.
This is the same issue that wealthy homeowners in Menlo Park and Atherton claim as grounds for a lawsuit, but Mountain View is instead trying to plan ahead and open up a public dialogue on what the best solutions will be, that will both integrate high speed rail and Caltrain service with the city's landscape.
Despite all the speculation, city officials say it's way too early to say exactly what will happen in Mountain View.
To have the new rail line tunnel under the whole downtown area is a very expensive solution, Kagiyama said. And going overhead "isn't going to happen."
Also, Rengstorff Avenue and Central Expressway could be lowered to allow cars to pass under both Caltrain and the high speed rail tracks, which would remain at-grade.
The High Speed Rail Authority would likely pay for the expensive projects, which could relieve the city of a heavy fundraising burden for the Rengstorff crossing. But the City Council made the Rengstorff grade separation a top goal earlier this year -- with no talk of high speed rail paying for it -- and funded preliminary studies on the project. The city aims to make the intersection safer.
Kagiyama said the city is anxious to talk to a contractor being hired within the next few weeks by the High Speed Rail Authority. This contractor would do local design work, and the city is eager to begin ironing out local concerns, such as the downtown train station's replica 1887 Train Depot and the light rail tracks, both of which may have to be moved.
The Peninsula is likely to be one of the most expensive parts of the project owing to the grade crossings required, and determining financial arrangements is going to be a central part of the project's politics after November. By starting to think about this now, cities like Mountain View are going to save themselves and the CHSRA time and money - there will already be detailed studies and a public process.
It's especially important that this work start now in order to build public support not just for HSR, but for specific solutions in cities like Mountain View. Such support is best built with frequent consultation with residents and an open planning process. Many hard decisions are going to have to be made about where the tracks and grade crossings will go and a consistent process can help reduce tensions and frictions.
Rather than fight reality and pretend that a 1950s-era urban landscape is tenable, Mountain View is looking to the future, to a sustainable mass-transit future. They're not alone - cities like Fresno are making similar plans. Most cities along the proposed route support the project and some, like Visalia, wanted it so badly that they tried pressuring the Authority into giving them a station. It's good to see that California's cities want a better future, rather than deluding themselves that the past is still viable.