Responding to a column in the San Mateo County Times by John Horgan, Quentin Kopp, member of the CHSRA Board and its president until last month, defends the choice of the Pacheco Pass alignment. Interesting reading, to be sure. After criticizing Horgan and the Times for publishing a "misleading" column and briefly describing the 10 years of studies that went into the alignment choice, Kopp offers this explanation for the choice:
The California High Speed Rail Authority has spent more than a decade studying the Peninsula Corridor and Altamont Pass or Pacheco Pass, and concluded twice that the Caltrain corridor is the premier solution for high-speed rail in California. The alternative route, over Altamont Pass, would bypass San Jose and San Francisco entirely.
That last sentence has been getting some attention in the comments to yesterday's post, with Morris Brown implying that Kopp is himself being misleading here, and potentially even violating CHSRA board policy in the process. Rafael agreed that the notion an Altamont alignment would cut off San Francisco and San Jose was "patent nonsense" but suggested that Kopp may have been thinking of one possible Altamont routing that would have sent trains to Oakland.
And yet Kopp is not wrong in the overall point, which is that Altamont had serious problems that could have produced significantly degraded service to SF and SJ. The concept being floated by some latter-day Altamont advocates is that San Jose would essentially be a stub track off the Dumbarton/Altamont mainline. San Jose wouldn't be cut off in this case, but it would get many fewer trains, as express SF-LA trains would not pass through Diridon Station at all. Rafael also pointed out in the comments that the Dumbarton corridor was far from an easy slam-dunk, presenting significant land use and engineering challenges. It is possible that those challenges may have ultimately forced an Oakland terminus.
AB 3034, which was approved by voters as Proposition 1A, mandated a 2 hour 40 minute runtime between SF and LA. As Pacheco is more direct and several miles shorter than the Altamont route, Pacheco met the standard. The same is true of the statutory requirement that SF Transbay Terminal be the route's northern terminus. AB 3034 wasn't yet law when the choice was made in July 2008, owing largely to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's delaying tactics on the state budget, but the key points of AB 3034 were already clear, and the existing Prop 1 already had much of that in place. So the CHSRA was constrained in its choices, and given those constraints, Pacheco is a legitimate solution.
Kopp offered further justification for the Pacheco choice:
A watchful public should be informed that this corridor has received more study than any other routes in California. If detractors want to cloud public memory, let me try to refresh it. Consider just a few of the reasons for choosing Pacheco Pass. An Altamont Pass alignment would require:
• Construction of a new transbay tube or bridge, an insanely costly endeavor, a threat to the Bay and certain to encounter opposition from environmentalists. Transformation of an antiquated 19th century railroad trestle bridge through a national wildlife refuge is a fantasy.
• As many as six tracks through developed East Bay communities, forcing expensive, controversial eminent domain proceedings and construction of elevated tracks, both bitterly opposed by residents and civic leaders.
• The splitting of trains, some going to San Jose and others northeast to San Francisco, eventually limiting the system's capacity and defeating the purpose of building high-speed rail service for Californians.
I discussed the first and third points above, but the second one is really worth noting. The Peninsula supporters of Altamont are being stunningly hypocritical in their demands - what they want to do is dump tracks they don't want onto neighborhoods across the bay. They are perfectly happy to force Pleasanton and Fremont to accept something they claim will kill communities.
Kopp also did a good job undermining the arguments made by the environmental groups that are party to the Altamont lawsuit:
You don't even need to accept my word. Consider that on April 30, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notified the Federal Railroad Administration and all interested persons that the corridor most likely to contain the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative for the Bay Area to Central Valley section is Pacheco Pass.
On May 8, 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers concurred, concluding the Pacheco Pass will cause less adverse effect to the aquatic ecosystem or other significant adverse environmental consequences, and "there are no other practical alternatives to the Pacheco Pass."
Some may argue that Pacheco has some environmental impacts, which it may. But the arguments being made here by federal regulators is that Pacheco's impacts are less than those of Altamont, particularly the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.
Kopp closes his op-ed by calling for a "more reasoned discussion" of the matter. This reminds me of some of the health care town halls, where opponents of reform who know they have absolutely no chance to stop this through the usual political process (because the majority of Americans want reform to happen) have taken to trying to shout down their opponents. Although we haven't seen some of the more violent expressions of disagreement over HSR, I think there is a fundamental similarity between the health care disruptors and the folks behind this lawsuit. They didn't get their way in the normal process, and now they are trying to disrupt the HSR project rather than let it proceed, even though voters approved the project and the route.
There are productive ways Peninsula residents can help ensure HSR is built in a way that meets their needs. But this Altamont obsession is distracting them from that more necessary work. The sooner the Peninsula accepts the reality and permanence of the Pacheco alignment, the better they will be.