SF Downtown Extension Supporters Want Someone to Show Them A Hero

May 24th, 2016 | Posted by

Roger Rudick has a good overview at Streetsblog SF of yesterday’s HSR scoping meeting at UCSF Mission Bay. One of the main points of discussion by attendees was the progress – or lack thereof – on funding the downtown extension to bring Caltrain and HSR service to the Transbay Terminal:

Brian Stokle, with the group “Friends of the DTX,” [the “downtown extension” of Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal] was among the visitors. He expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in connecting Caltrain to Transbay, currently under constructions. “There’s no true political champion for it yet. And it’s a lot of money,” he said. That was a concern echoed by others at the meeting…

And that returned the conversation to the concerns of Stokle and others about the lack of progress on the DTX project. It was as if the HSR planners are already assuming the Transbay connection would not be completed in time–and that they would have to depend on King Street Station as its access point to San Francisco.

Esther Stearns of the SF Transit Riders spoke during the official public comment period: “We would urge you to aggressively address the downtown extension in the environmental reports–we want DTX in the EIR. We want to see access to the station in downtown rather than farther out,” she said.

This needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. The Transbay Terminal project doesn’t really make sense without the DTX. And both Caltrain and HSR need the DTX as soon as possible to be maximally effective. This ought to have been funded and under construction already, ideally timed to meet Caltrain electrification.

But there is a lack of political leadership right now on major transportation projects in the Bay Area, in SF in particular, but also statewide. The DTX should not be languishing like this. We need elected officials to do what it takes to get it funded. Who will step up?

Metro’s Long Awaited Expo Line Extension Opens to Santa Monica

May 21st, 2016 | Posted by

The California rail network just welcomed a major new addition on Friday with the opening of Metro’s Expo Line Phase 2 extension to downtown Santa Monica.

Photo from The Source

Metro’s Steve Hymon also offered this excellent overview of the Expo Line extension, covering topics ranging from end to end travel times (“about 47-48 minutes”) to the controversy over lack of signal priority (that’s the fault of the cities of LA and Santa Monica) to a historical perspective on the route. Hymon nailed it when he talked about the old Pacific Electric trains that used to serve this route:

If rail to Santa Monica is so great, why did the streetcars go kaput in 1953?

Long story short: cars got really popular, freeways got built and streetcars were neglected and never modernized. In 1953, it doesn’t seem too many folks were concerned about what traffic would be like if Los Angeles added six million more residents and sprawled deeper in almost every direction. Whoopsydoodles!

This is perhaps the best single-paragraph explanation of the colossal failure of transportation planning in Southern California since the end of World War II. And it’s still relevant today, as some people continue to fight rail projects, whether it’s new Metro Rail lines or high speed rail.

As to high speed rail, for it to be as good as it can be, there has to be an extensive rail network connecting to the HSR stations. Los Angeles is on a course to help provide that connecting service.

Once HSR is open, it will be possible to get from downtown San Francisco to downtown Santa Monica in about three and a half hours. That’s faster than getting to downtown Santa Monica from many parts of Southern California by car, especially on a Friday evening.

I can’t wait to ride the rails all the way to the beach, the way my grandfather used to do in LA before World War II and the railpocalypse. Next time I’m in SoCal, which will be in a few weeks, I’ll be on board the Expo Line bound for Santa Monica – along with thousands of other riders every day.

Central Valley HSR Segment Completion Delayed to 2022

May 19th, 2016 | Posted by

In what should come as no surprise for reasons that I’ll explain in a moment, the completion of construction on the Central Valley portion of the California High Speed Rail project has been delayed by four years to 2022:

The first segment of California’s first-in-the-nation bullet-train project, currently scheduled for completion in 2018, will not be done until the end of 2022, according to a contract revision the Obama administration quietly approved this morning….

State and federal officials downplayed the shift in the timetable, saying it partly reflected more ambitious plans for the Central Valley work, and in any case merely ratified construction realities on the ground. Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said his agency is accelerating its pace after a painfully slow start, with a half dozen construction crews now building overpasses, relocating utilities, and demolishing structures from north of Fresno down to the Bakersfield area.

And what might be causing these delays? It’s a deliberate act of political and timeline sabotage by project opponents who have spent the last 8 years (my god, has it been that long already?) trying to kill a project voters approved:

Federal Railroad Administration officials assigned much of the blame for the lags to the project’s vociferous critics, who have tied it up with a tangle of lawsuits, administrative challenges, and other red tape. They complained that the opponents, especially Central Valley farmers and other not-in-my-back-yard landowners, have gotten far more traction against the railway than they would have against a highway, reflecting a cultural and political bias in favor of traditional asphalt infrastructure. But while they described today’s agreement as a routine bureaucratic clarification, they said they expect an explosive reaction from opponents looking to score political points in Sacramento and Washington.

“We’re just doing due diligence, but everything about California high-speed rail gets magnified and overblown,” said FRA head Sarah Feinberg.

The FRA is absolutely right about this. A highway project would have sailed right through without public opposition and delay. But HSR opponents have used every possible opportunity to delay the project in hopes it will die.

Their greatest success appears to be delaying the process of acquiring right of way, which has set back construction work by several years. Opponents have gone up and down the Valley encouraging property owners to drag this out as long as possible in hopes that HSR will be abandoned. It won’t be, but the result has been further delays that project opponents are gleefully seizing upon to try and prove that somehow the project should be abandoned.

One such opponent is Orange County resident Kevin Drum, who blogs at Mother Jones. Why a progressive publication promotes someone who opposes clean energy infrastructure is beyond me, but here he is, trashing the delay and the project:

By the way, for those of you wondering what “Central Valley” means, it means Bakersfield to Fresno. Exciting, no? The official reason for building this leg first is blah blah blah. The real reason for building it first is to get something—anything—done. Once you’ve got some track laid, it’s really hard to kill the project because, hey, you don’t want all that money to have been wasted, do you?

So for this guy, reducing CO2 emissions and other air pollution in the Central Valley, as well as promoting economic growth in a part of the state with unemployment still above 10%, is just “blah blah blah”? Ridiculous. And short-sighted.

While the delay is annoying, California can look at the El Niño that flopped as a reminder that climate change is here and its impacts on the state are already serious. HSR should have been built 35 years ago, but better late than never.

CHSRA Details Funding for Gateway Cities

May 17th, 2016 | Posted by

The California High Speed Rail Authority’s 2016 Business Plan includes funding to make early investments in projects between Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Whittier Daily News took a look at what that actually would mean for the Gateway Cities:

The authority could provide up to $500,000 for the cities, including La Mirada, Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs, to fund economic and environmental studies on the possible impacts from the 30-mile line that will run from Anaheim to Los Angeles….

Michelle Boehm, the Southern California regional director for the rail authority, last week told the La Mirada City Council that her agency will pay for a proposed underpass at Marquardt and Rosecrans avenues. And she said the agency is open to paying for sound walls along the railroad.

Boehm also said the authority will consider building a Norwalk-Santa Fe Springs stop for the route, in addition to a Fullerton stop. Previously, the plan was for only one of those stations.

Boehm also spoke favorably of a proposed extension of the Green Line to Norwalk, which would provide a direct connection to LAX from the LA-Anaheim HSR segment.

This isn’t the sum total of what they would spend between LA and Anaheim in the next few years, but it does indicate that those communities will be seeing tangible benefits even as the Initial Operating Segment gets built further to the north.