Been meaning to write about this for a few days now, as those that I talked to at the Palo Alto teach-in can attest. As you've probably noticed if you've followed some of the blogs and even local news outlets, there's quite a dispute emerging over the Transbay Terminal project, with Quentin Kopp making moves in recent weeks to push for major changes to HSR's interface with it. One of the best overviews of the matter is over at Eric's Transbay Blog:
So what’s the beef now? Rather than employ the downtown extension alignment and station location previously adopted by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the CHSRA would instead like to override the TJPA’s previous efforts and study alternative locations for the San Francisco terminus in its project-level EIR/EIS for the San Francisco-San Jose segment. In particular, the CHSRA has set its sight on another terminal to accommodate its exaggerated capacity requirements — the Beale Street terminal, situated parallel to Beale Street, and stretching roughly from Mission Street to Harrison Street. But this is an alternative that was resurrected from the dead. In the 1990s, a handful of potential Caltrain downtown extension alignments were considered. Most of those, including alignments leading to a Beale Street terminal, were rejected as undesirable or infeasible.
What happened was this: CHSRA obtained a legal opinion from lawyer Duane Morris that claims TJPA is obligated to review the Beale Street alternative under both CEQA and NEPA, under the argument that the existing EIR/EIS was approved on the basis of Caltrain being the primary user of the downtown tunnel extension (DTX). Since HSR's use requirements are different, the opinion goes, a new EIR/EIS is needed that would include the Beale alignment.
As Rafael has charted before, there are legitimate concerns with the design of the train box at Transbay, including the curvature of the "throat." But Eric at Transbay Blog suggests CHSRA is actually motivated by financial concerns:
But it does not seem coincidental that the agency’s temper — presumably largely fueled by, or embodied in, its ever-colorful former chairman, Quentin Kopp — flares up at the exact points in time when the TJPA competes with the CHSRA for access to new pots of funding that are being made available for high-speed rail....California has submitted project requests to the U.S. Department of Transportation, including a $400 million request that, if granted, would allow the Transbay Transit Center’s train box to be excavated sooner rather than later, using a “bottom up” construction approach. Transbay, by virtue of its completed environmental documents, is classified as a “ready-to-go” project, eligible for a Track 1 high-speed rail stimulus grant. In just a few weeks, the Federal Railroad Administration will announce the Track 1 projects that it has selected for grants.
It is this issue that has caused tempers to flare over this dispute. The Federal Railroad Administration is going to decide soon on whether Transbay and the train box will get federal HSR stimulus money. TJPA and the Bay Area transit community are concerned - rightly - that CHSRA's actions will jeopardize that money.
To that end Brian Stanke, Executive Director of Californians for High Speed Rail, has authored the following letter to Joseph Szabo, Administrator of the FRA. It is a detailed argument as to why Transbay Terminal deserves the $400 million, and why CHSRA's claims are invalid and should not be used to withhold that money:
CA4HSR FRA Letter
CHSRA has not offered any official comment on this subject for this post, despite my inquiries. Based on other published reports, including things we have discussed at this blog, we do know that CHSRA has raised concerns about the platform capacity at Transbay. We also know that the relationship between TJPA and CHSRA is very sour. Last December Kopp blasted TJPA's Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan for trying to keep Kopp and CHSRA out of the planning and discussion process. For their part, as Eric noted above, TJPA believes CHSRA has been trying to undermine the Transbay project at almost every turn.
Although the CHSRA may believe any problems with the HSR/DTX project lie with TJPA, it should be quite clear to them they have lost this particular battle in the court of public opinion. Bay Area transit advocates are outraged at the prospect of the Transbay trainbox losing out on badly needed federal funding. The use of development rights - specifically, selling the air rights to build skyscrapers to help pay for the Transbay project - is correctly seen as an innovative model for funding urban transit infrastructure. The DTX and train box are considered vital for bringing more mass transit commuters to the SF urban core - particularly for Caltrain. Proposition H passed by a significant margin in 1999 by SF voters to approve the project, and the project remains popular with San Francisco residents.
We don't yet know if it is too late, but my strong advice to CHSRA is to make peace with the Transbay Terminal project. If the federal funding is denied, it will do nothing to help CHSRA's relationships around the state and could cause a reaction from SF's influential political leadership. If there were enormous flaws with the design then that would be good reason to oppose the funding and redesign the project, but even those who have criticized the design of the "throat" haven't suggested the project be scrapped or that the "throat" design is unworkable (although it is not an ideal design).
I also renew my call for federal intervention. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein are extremely well positioned to play a role as mediator between TJPA and CHSRA. We called for this to occur last December when the CHSRA/TJPA dispute first emerged. It hasn't happened and both the Transbay Terminal and the HSR project are worse off for it.