Peninsula EIR To Be Delayed By A Year?
According to former California High Speed Rail Authority board member Rod Diridon, speaking before the Belmont City Council yesterday afternoon, the San Francisco to San José draft EIR could be further delayed by as much as a year:
Staff members are expected to recommend to the high-speed rail board next week that the report be delayed for as much as a year, former board member Rod Diridon told Belmont city officials Thursday afternoon.
The EIR was initially due last December but was pushed back until the spring, he said….
The staff will likely recommend the EIR be delayed to allow more time to look into a number of matters that still concern Peninsula city leaders, residents and business owners, including looking into a two-track system through San Mateo County instead of a four-track system.
I’m not convinced this is the best move. Delay of a few months made sense – with stimulus money going to the Central Valley, there was some room to delay the draft EIR into early 2011 to enable more time to discuss implementation of the project. But any greater delay will actually hurt, not help, the Peninsula. While I have never believed that HSR would hurt property values along the route, it is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that there would indeed be a hit to property values from the uncertainty surrounding the project’s design. Once something is decided, the market can price it in and values will stabilize and, before long, begin rising (depending of course on much broader factors in the national housing market). But if a year or two goes by with the situation being uncertain, then it could well cause problems.
And then there’s the ostensible reason for the delay – a desire to explore a two-track system instead of a four-track system:
“This could make all the difference between having the project and not having it,” said Bill Dawson, a member of Belmont’s high-speed rail ad hoc committee. The committee is comprised of local residents and business owners who investigate the potential impact of high-speed rail on Belmont.
“It’s a game-changer,” Dawson said. “People are worried about having four tracks. The right-of-way in Belmont is wide enough to accommodate four tracks, but many oppose four tracks, because it widens the right-of-way.”
Look at that last paragraph there and marvel at the circular logic being employed. The right of way is wide enough for four tracks, but four tracks would widen the right of way? Um, what? Either the ROW is wide enough right now or it’s not.
The other question is whether a two-track system would actually meet the needs of both Caltrain and HSR. I would assume that HSR opponents are proposing this precisely because it can’t, and the tracks would be used primarily by Caltrain. Or, if Caltrain has to scale back its operations, HSR could use more of the track capacity, but none of us wants to see that happen to Caltrain.
Another reason the two-track proposal doesn’t really make sense is that it doesn’t resolve the question of the vertical alignment. Is there that much difference between a two-track aerial structure and a four-track aerial structure? As for a tunnel, Diridon explained at the meeting in Belmont, their chances of getting one without the locals helping pay for it are slim at best:
“If we build a tunnel down the Peninsula, we’re going to have the build the tunnel for Sanger, and Cochrane, and the other Central Valley cities,” Diridon said. “That’s the law. If we don’t, the project will be stopped by legal action.”
Holding out for a tunnel would significantly delay the high-speed rail project, he said.
“If you hold out for a tunnel, I think what you’ll do is delay the project on the Peninsula maybe forever,” Diridon said. “Because I don’t think you can build a tunnel.”
And of course, the costs of giving everybody and their brother a tunnel would be astronomical, so it’s not something that can be done without local funding. As we know, the Peninsula so far has been reluctant to provide it.
So I’m not quite sure what this EIR delay is going to accomplish. It’s not going to resolve some of the basic inconsistencies in the anti-HSR viewpoint. If a delay can help everyone hammer out an agreement on how to build the tracks, then it would be valuable. So far though, the anti-HSR folks seem to be pretty deeply entrenched, and many political leaders on the Peninsula are either with them or aren’t yet willing to side with the clear majority that supports HSR and wants it built.
If a delay happens, then I do hope that everyone can come together to figure out a solution that, above all, provides for the best passenger rail service, because that’s what matters most. Oil prices keep rising, so there is some urgency to getting these details resolved.