On November 18, the non-profit group Sustainable Menlo Park hosted a presentation on the latest developments on high speed rail. Sustainable Menlo Park is officially "neutral" on the subject of High Speed Rail, but decided to host the event due to local interest in the subject. On the podium were Bruce Fukuji of Caltrain, John Litzinger of HNTB, and Greg Gleichman of AECOM. Turnout at the event was low; there was not a lot of publicity beforehand, and there were perhaps 30 people in attendance. Much of the information had been presented in prior events, but here are a few notes:
Bruce Fukuji made a presentation on Context Sensitive Solutions for the Peninsula. He began, however, by reminding everyone in the room of the big picture: the looming challenge of sustainability. California has led the nation on climate change targets, but meeting future emissions targets is going to be a challenge. He noted that 42% of carbon emissions in California are transportation-related. Even with improvements in fuel efficiency, an expanding population will result in an increase in vehicle miles traveled. Population growth will more than cancel out improvements in combustion-engine technology. It will be impossible to reach our emissions targets simply by relying on hybrids and increases in fuel efficiency. He used the following graph to illustrate the relationship between urban density and gasoline consumption:
Fukuji then went on to discuss the development of Context Sensitive Solutions as a reaction to the DAD model of planning (Design, Announce, Defend). He also explained the concept of "value engineering" and how there is a need to give the functional needs and the context needs equal weight.
The next speaker was John Litzinger from HNTB. He gave a detailed overview of the EIR process, and noted that the goal is to have a fully approved and final EIR at the end of 2011.
During the Q&A session, Litzinger commented that the engineering studies around crossing San Francisquito Creek may likely determine that a bored tunnel is the preferred alignment for engineering reasons; crossing the creek and the approach to El Palo Alto at grade or in a shallow trench is problematic. This may explain why CHSRA representatives at recent meetings have seemed open to tunneling through much of Menlo Park and Palo Alto; if CHSRA engineers conclude that the best way to cross San Francisquito is in a deep tunnel, it may be that Menlo Park and Palo Alto may get some of their tunnel without having to fight for it. I should clarify that this was not in any way an official announcement, just the musings of an engineer. The vast majority of questions from the audience related to tunnels. In some cases, audience members didn't really have questions, they just wanted to state their preference for a tunnel. None of them had any suggestions for how to pay for it.
The last question of the night had to do with subsidies. The questioner stated his premise that all High Speed Rail systems around the world are dependent on subsidies. Litzinger responded by distinguishing the costs of the building the initial infrastructure from the costs of maintenance and expansion. High Speed Rail, like every other form of transportation infrastructure, depends upon government subsidy for construction. After an adoption period to build ridership, all High Speed Rail systems cover their maintenance and expansion costs. Litzinger then noted that High Speed Rail is the opposite of freeways; both need subsidies for construction, but afterwards, High Speed Rail covers its own maintenance and expansion costs, whereas freeways don't charge anything to users and rely entirely on taxpayers forever.
Thursday, November 19, 2009