Thursday, September 4, 2008

I-15 Express Lanes Force Rerouting of SD HSR

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Caltrans is about to open 4.5 miles of new express lanes on Interstate 15, part of an ambitious project to add four reversible express lanes to the freeway between Escondido and Miramar. Whether you think more freeway lanes are going to be useful or not (I don't), what's relevant for us is that the LA to SD routing of the high speed rail line was going to run in the I-15 ROW.

The operative word is "was." The Caltrans I-15 project makes it difficult if not impossible to use I-15 between Escondido and Miramar for HSR tracks, so the Authority is exploring other options:

Two months before Californians vote on a $9.95-billion bond measure for trains, state rail officials are going back to the drawing board to map out a new route for 20 miles of high-speed railroad tracks in North County. Peter Gertler, project manager for the system's Los Angeles-to-San Diego corridor, said Wednesday that construction of express lanes on Interstate 15 between Escondido and Miramar will preclude laying down tracks next to the freeway.

Gertler is vice president and national rail director at HNTB Corp. in Oakland. HNTB is the lead consultant on the southern piece of the 800-mile statewide project and Gertler is coordinating preliminary engineering and environmental studies. Gertler said the original idea was to build the railroad along the west side of I-15. Now planners are looking for other routes because that idea no longer will work, he said.

There is a slight chance planners could keep the train in the I-15 corridor by elevating the tracks above freeway lanes, he said. But that may not be feasible.

"There's bridges in there that weren't there before," Gertler said.

I'm not deeply familiar with that section of San Diego County, but judging by the map nothing immediately presents itself, especially considering the hilly topography in the area.

The usual HSR deniers will use this to attack the Authority's route planning, but the SD branch is still in the development stage anyway. The Authority's board meeting yesterday included a presentation from SANDAG on their local transportation planning, including a multimodal transit center at Lindbergh Field that they want to include HSR. As Phase II of the project there is still time to nail down these details.

The I-15 issue does show the need for stronger leadership in this state on coordinating transportation projects, to ensure that things like potential rail corridors aren't paved over. The lack of coordination seemingly plagues rail projects around the state. San Diego officials, the Authority, Caltrans, state legislators, and anyone else I've forgotten need to work together to ensure that there is a workable HSR route solution.


Rob Dawg said...

"There's bridges in there that weren't there before," Gertler said.

Where'd that bridge come from? Hey there's a vote of confidence for the business model and choice of technical consultants.

Robert, you have to understand that "not ready" and "tooexpensive" are not unfair criticisms.

Spokker said...

Hey look, another cost of waiting. We could have voted for this ballot measure in 2004.

Michael said...

It is a sad that the preliminary studies completely missed this, as the project has been under construction since about 2004, and on the drawing board long before that. As a San Diegan, I am actually really upset with the project, a weird hybrid bus rapid transit system and toll traffic by-pass lane (I think a light rail system would have served the corridor better, and linked various LRT systems throughout the region).

Even as one of the biggest HSR supporters out there, I am appalled at the size of this oversight. In any regard, the only two major North/South corridors into San Diego are I-5 and I-15. I-5 was ruled out long ago as a potential station, and as someone who has driven I-15 I know for a fact the difficulty it will be to bring a train line along parts of that corridor with this freeway expansion. The good news is it is only a few miles that the land is tight, but the bad news is those few miles are going to either need to be elevated very high to get over freeway overpasses (VERY high) or tunneled for quite a ways. I don't think developing a new corridor into San Diego is feasible, due to Camp Pendlton blocking much of north county, intense environmental opposition to hitting up undeveloped wildlife and Native American areas, and a lack of land with sprawling housing developments effectively barricading many routes. There just aren't any continuous corridors available in that part of San Diego anymore.

Whatever the solution is that is come up with, this does show the necessity for the rail authority to get its routing choices integrated with Caltrans plans, and to begin preserving right-of-way NOW.

Anonymous said...

When are you residents of San Diego, where a new transit system is so badly needed and where a direct route from LA to San Diego makes sense, going to wake up and realize this project is never going to help you.

It has been designed as a developer's dream and not to help existing congestion problems.

But wait, you will have to wait for profits from the LA to SF core segment to occur, so that funds will become available for your part of California. That is never going to happen and your area, like Sacramento, and Oakland are just being left out in the cold, so that the devious leaders of this project can support CalTrain, San Jose and San Francisco.

Wake up

Rafael said...

I'd be careful about jumping to the conclusion that CAHSR did not know anything about the I-15 express lanes project. More likely, they were unlikely to do integrate their plans into that because voters have not yet approved any HSR project at all. Until and unless prop 1A passes, it is just a paper tiger.

The most likely solution is a covered trench/tunnel that will allow trains to run underneath the express lanes in this relatively short bottleneck section. However, given the construction timeframe, CAHSR would have to act very quickly after Nov 4 to minimize construction cost in the 2020s. That would imply diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from the immediate objective of building the SF-Anaheim spine.

Rafael said...

"unlikely to do integrate" -> "unable to get Caltrans to integrate"

Anonymous said...


I sure you know that the language in Prop 1A prohibits any spending of funds, which would affect building of the core segment of LA to SF.

Since the core segment is by CHSRA's own estimates is currently 33 billion and only 9 billion coming from possible passage of the bond measure, even if fed and private both match, they are 6 billion short -- how could they legally divert several hundreds of millions outside the core segment.

This project just makes no sense.

Michael said...

@ Rafael,

I am sure they will come up with a solution for the short I-15 bottleneck, but a trench option is physically not possible the way these express lanes are constructed, a large portion of which is elevated structure. Tunneling right under that may not be a possibility with seismic concerns as well.

Rob Dawg said...

I vehemently object to the assertion that "CAHSR makes no sense." The geography and population concentrations and technology and urban built environments and political will are almost there.

CAHSR will be a great project when it is ready. Ready means honest accounting and identified commitments to r-o-w. Sure 1A says no dirt will be turned until funding is secure but not even the most ardent supporter believes that. Sure UPRR will eventually come around but everyone acknowledges that it will be at a price not currently in the budget. Likewise I don't see anywhere near enough corridor width, fencing and security to address Central Valley Russian Thistle never mind terrorism.

Heck I'd settle for admission that the projected cost for concrete rail ties has more than doubled since the last time they were costed.

Car-less in San Diego said...

I agree with Raphael - The planners knew complications existed in this segment and they also know that there is a solution. That solution will come about when Prop 1A is passed.

The alignment will probably end up being a mix of both elevated and at grade segments while still using the I-15 ROW.

In my opinion we should take back those managed lanes and put the HSR tracks in them. After all Caltrans and SANDAG used public transit dollars to build those lanes for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which may or may not happen. Much like the BRT stations that were built along the I-15 south of I-8, they were a great idea but remain unused.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

FYI Robert:

Spokker said...

You guys really need to use TinyURL for your links. They get cut off by this piece of crap Blogger site.

Robert Cruickshank said...

rafael is absolutely right. My post did not blame the Authority for this situation - instead I think this is a reflection of the low priority passenger rail planning has in this state.

Thanks for the link, pt. I would indeed encourage folks to use tinyurl when posting links. spokker's right that Blogger sucks, but at this point, this blog has some excellent SEO - we fluctuate between the #2 and #3 hit on a Google search for "california high speed rail" - that I don't want to mess with that until after the election.

If Prop 1A passes, this blog will continue, almost certainly under better software and likely at its own URL.

Ryan said...

I live in San Diego right down the street from Miramar Road and I have noticed these new lanes going in for a while. What I assumed is that they were planning for the possibility of rail in the future.

But what is crazy about the system is that there are already 2 lanes in the middle stretch for 8 miles south of where the new one begin. They are open to northbound traffic out of the city in the afternoon, and southbound traffic in the morning into the city. The issue is that they are now opening 4 lanes in the middle, with 2 northbound and 2 southbound lanes. This means you either are on express lanes then have to get off, or you are merging onto express lanes you dont need.

Until they were able to widen the southern section to 4 lanes it is illogical that they opened the 4 lanes to the north. This would give another year or two so that the state could decide about HSR. Instead they decided to throw HSR to the wind and spend millions and milions on lanes that are not needed yet.

In my opinion I cannot see why I-15 gets all the funding when the traffic is far worse on I-5 between Del Mar and San Clemente. In the summer time on the weekends both directions can be stopped for no reason just because so many people are on the roads between LA and San Diego. That never happens in I-15 Finally after all these years they are getting one single carpool lane in each direction when they need an additional 2 lanes in each direction all the time...

Such a crazy situation and such bad judgement by those in charge of the transportation in San Diego.