As the Peninsula scoping meetings begin this week local media is starting to take notice - which is a Good Thing, as public awareness of and involvement in HSR planning is a necessary prerequisite to project success. It also means the battle in the mid-Peninsula (is that what you all call it? correct my terminology, please) over a tunnel is starting to heat up. One of the leading HSR deniers, Martin Engel, is championing the cause of burying the HSR tracks in a tunnel through at least Menlo Park and Atherton, and potentially through neighboring cities as well should they be interested. Engel is circulating a letter, which he has helpfully posted in the comments to the Almanac News article I just linked, in which he asks the California High Speed Rail Authority to provide a tunnel at "no additional cost burden to localities" on top of the cost burden he claims is already imposed by Proposition 1A:
There can be no question that the CHSRA has an obligation to mitigate the negative impact of the train corridor development. That means not elevating the rail grade in any way, either by berm, retaining walls, or viaduct. Although there will be claims that tunneling is far too expensive and cannot be afforded by the rail authority, the fact is that not to do so will be far too expensive to the residents and cities adversely impacted by the elevated system. The harm and costs with elevated alternatives will be irreparable.
Whenever someone says "there can be no question" that's usually a sign that, in fact, there can be and usually ARE lots of questions. The CHSRA's mitigation obligations apply to NEPA and CEQA rules, not to Martin Engel's concept of urban design. Engel would need to demonstrate that grade elevation is an inherently and universally negative impact, and would need to show in particular the specific costs to residents and cities as a result of this. Instead all he has are assertions and claims, which of course are all he's ever had. Engel of course assumes that there will be no cost benefits to grade elevation - that the absence of diesel emissions and the safety improvements (no more trains hitting pedestrians or autos) will not bring significant savings.
Asking (or not even asking, but imposing upon) the residents of Atherton and Menlo Park to accept the horrendous and costly burden to be imposed by the rail authority is unacceptable. All of us in California, and in the United States, will already be required to make major financial contributions for the construction of this rail system through demands placed on our taxes. So will our children. This intrusive and deleterious imposition adds further injury to injury. We cannot accept it.
This would be Engel's "we have not yet begun to fight!" statement. The only financial burden that would be involved with HSR is if we don't build it - the cost of traffic, global warming, air pollution, and lost jobs that all would result from not having HSR. Engel includes this to argue that Menlo Park and Atherton are already paying for HSR, so it's not fair to ask them to pay for undergrounding, though it was quite fair for BART to insist it of Berkeley.
Engel finally gets to the point:
What are we saying is this:
1. No elevated structures on the Caltrain corridor through Atherton and Menlo Park.
2. No additional cost burden to localities for the construction.
3. Only acceptable solutions to involve below-grade-level alternatives.
4. Unambiguous negative impact of construction easements, shoofly tracks, business closings, eminent domain takings, and revenue loss for the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton due to property devaluation, to be clearly acknowledged in the EIS/EIR.
5. Acknowledgement of unambiguous negative impact of any elevated rail-supporting partitioning of Menlo Park and Atherton. Required plans for and commitment to construct definitive mitigation.
It is my hope that the residents of the Peninsula do not share this extremist and impractical position. By asking the CHSRA to pay for undergrounding, Engel is in fact asking for everyone else in California to subsidize his vision of what a city should look like. That East Oakland and Fresno and San Bernardino should not worry about education cuts and health care and jobs but direct money to a vanity tunnel through one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the entire state. I'm sure that's going to go over quite well with the voters.
We want HSR to be built the right way through the Peninsula, and believe that a grade elevated structure can be constructed in a way that complements the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton. We hope that the residents of those cities pursue those options, or find the money themselves to pay for a tunnel. We're not going to do it for them.