CHSRA is hosting a number of scoping meeting down in Southern California this month - click that link to see the full details (PDF link). In advance of the LA County meetings, which kick off tomorrow night in Monterey Park, Streetsblog LA offers a primer on the LA-SD route:
I'm sure some are curious why the CHSRA choose to connect Los Angeles and San Diego via the Inland Empire instead of the more direct routing along the coast. From my years following this project I'll offer my cliffnotes on why this is so.
There are a number of obstacles to using the coastal corridor. The right of way in some places is narrow and also traverses environmentally sensitive areas. As the faq "How is this project different from other previous attempts to implement high-speed train systems in the U.S.?" on the CHSRA website notes:
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) considered but rejected a coastal alignment between Los Angeles and San Diego as part of its certified Statewide Program EIR/EIS (November 2005). The Authority concluded that limited existing right-of-way and sensitive coastal resources made high-speed train service on the coastal rail corridor infeasible. You can read more on the routing choices at the CAHSR's Frequently Asked Questions page.
Another factor is opposition from the coastal communities of Southern Orange County and Northern San Diego County. While cities like Anaheim and Irvine are eager to be part of the system, communities along the coast further south are hotbeds of NIMBY pushback (e.g. San Juan Capistrano and Encinitas). That is why the spur line serving Orange County goes no further South than Irvine. Plus the folks in the Inland Empire want the project to serve their region and have been actively lobbying for it to do so during the past decade. Similar lobbying by Palmdale and Lancaster is the reason why the project goes through the Antelope Valley instead of along the grapevine/I-5 corridor to reach L.A. from the Central Valley.
I would add some things to this. The issue isn't so much NIMBY pushback - that isn't stopping CHSRA elsewhere, nor would it be appropriate for it to do so - but the extreme difficulty of engineering tracks in this area. The tracks between LA and SD currently hug the coast through Capistrano Beach and San Clemente, squeezed between the beach and the bluffs. Those bluffs frequently come down onto the tracks in years of heavy rain, the most recent example I know of being in 1998. It's really not a good place for high speed trains.
The only real alternative along the coast is Interstate 5. But this is even less workable than the coast. I-5 is extremely hilly through much of the section from San Clemente southward (Camp Pendleton being less so). It also has some tight curves that make it additionally unsuitable for an HSR route.
Combined with the larger population along the Ontario-Escondido inland alignment, those engineering concerns made the Inland Empire alignment more viable. And yet it's not without questions - such as what will they do now that the I-15 ROW between Escondido and San Diego has been used up by Caltrans? Another is whether the trains will travel along the I-15 or the I-215 alignment in southern Riverside County. At one of these scoping meetings, yesterday in Murrieta, that issue came up, along with some of the now-standard NIMBY concerns:
Murrieta has been targeted for a station stop in an area near the intersection of the two freeways often referred to as the Golden Triangle.
Officials in the southwest Riverside County city see the station as a potential boon -- possibly a catalyst for commercial development and job growth.
As one of the most auto-dependent locations in a deeply auto-dependent region, Murrieta will derive quite a bit of benefit from having an HSR station, making travel to job centers to the north, northwest, and the south more feasible and affordable.
The issue of alignment was discussed:
Determining which freeway the train will parallel will be part of a lengthy environmental study that begins with the public comments fielded at the scoping sessions, said Jose Martinez, project manager for the Southern California line.
Each route has benefits and drawbacks. The terrain along I-215 is flatter and could allow the train to pass through both county seats. But the I-15 route is shorter and has more available land, said Rick Simon, a project engineer.
The I-215 route does include the ability to generate riders from Riverside, Moreno Valley, and San Bernardino/Redlands, whereas the I-15 route would be quicker from LA to SD but would not generate ridership from many of those cities.
And of course, the usual "omg this will cost too much!" folks came out:
Not everyone was supportive. Murrieta mother and son Ken and Louise Appel said they didn't believe that the benefits of the rail line -- shorter commutes and less dependence on foreign oil -- outweigh the costs -- more noise and the estimated $45 billion price tag for the entire system.
Which of course only makes sense if you assume there is no cost whatsoever to continuing the present model of transportation, which involves massive amounts of sprawl subsidized by everyone else in California. In other words, status quo. America has done a very good job of making those costs seem not only normal, but hidden, even nonexistent. So we who support HSR look like the ones wanting to just throw around money, even though opponents are actually the ones proposing a profligate strategy that, as we have learned with this recession, doesn't actually work for most people.