In today's San Mateo County Times John Horgan paints a ridiculous picture of an HSR project doomed to destroy Peninsula communities. Of course, since this is the same guy who confused Colma and Bayview I suppose we should take his brand of HSR denial with a grain of salt. Still, he's not likely alone in his opinion, and any opportunity to explain how HSR will benefit the Peninsula is worth taking.
THERE is a fresh sense of urgency in some San Mateo County communities as plans for high-speed electrified rail along the Peninsula proceed faster than originally anticipated.
Passage of Proposition 1A last November, which provides an infusion of nearly $10 billion to get the project rolling, was just the start. Now, it appears entirely possible that the federal government, which is printing money faster than anyone can spend it to counter a very tough recession, will inject more billions into California, some of it for transportation infrastructure....
The deadline for local comments, concerns and suggestions regarding these efforts is now less than six weeks away.
OMG doom! They're coming to bulldoze your communities tomorrow!!1!!1
Well, nevermind the fact that HSR construction won't begin until 2010 at the earliest, and even then it'll be focused on the test track in the Central Valley. Construction on the Peninsula is several years away at best. We keep hoping here that Obama will include HSR in the stimulus, but that's not a sure thing, and regardless of how the Obama Administration goes about fulfilling its HSR promises, federal money isn't going to accelerate the CHSRA's timetables.
That didn't stop Horgan from trying to create some sense of crisis, and so he goes on:
There is already considerable worry in places such as Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame, portions of San Mateo and other hamlets that the new system will dramatically alter their small-town ambiance by widening the rail corridor, walling it off (thus dividing communities in half), exercising eminent domain and installing unsightly overhead electric wires.
They may not have much choice. The high-speed rail poobahs, in concert with the state of California, have a great deal of authority to forge ahead, regardless of cries of outrage from individual municipalities impacted by what's ahead.
Horgan's revisionism here is hilarious. The rail corridor was there before most of those cities were. (And funny how he uses the term "hamlet" to describe one of California's most highly urbanized corridors.) The "small town ambience" is a modern-day fiction, existing only because of the decline of freight traffic along the route and the desire of some residents to pretend they're in rural New England as opposed to urban California.
The litany of horrific things the HSR project will do to these communities is interesting in what it leaves out - an end to diesel pollution, an end to loud train whistles, an end to deadly collisions between train and automobile and train and man.
Peninsula residents will benefit greatly from those amenities as well as the HSR service itself. No wonder cities like Menlo Park, far from expressing "outrage", voted for Prop 1A as did San Mateo County as a whole. The margins were not close.
There's lots to consider. Take the sensitive matter of placing the rails underground, much as BART has done south of Daly City and Colma.
One high-speed rail honcho has warned privately that going underground will be a doubtful and quite expensive alternative here.
"It would cost three times as much (as a surface option)," he said recently. "If the cities want it underground, they are going to have to pay for it themselves."
Lots of luck. But the guy is probably speaking a frank and depressing truth, or at least something close to it.
Finding a fiscal mechanism for miles worth of a pricey underground approach seems like something of a long shot at this point. But you never know.
Maybe the feds can print even more lucre. Hey, why not? What's another trillion among friends? Hope springs eternal.
Anyone who thinks the federal government would pay for undergrounding the HSR/Caltrain route through the Peninsula is out of their mind. The cities most certainly will have to pay for it themselves, as Berkeley did with BART - and as you might say San Mateo County did with BART, as the cost of undergrounding the line south of Colma was one reason among many for the ongoing cost to the county of the SFO extension.
Besides, there's no better way to cause problems for federal HSR funding than to give HSR deniers the notion that the money is going to help rich folks near Stanford have their own Big Dig. Even if that wouldn't properly describe the project, such nuances escape our opponents.
If these cities want to preserve their late 20th century version of "small town ambience" rather than look to how European cities have built quite livable cities with HSR, or to how their own cities lived for nearly 150 years with a busy rail line, then let them pay for it themselves.