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.