Bay Area Council’s Peninsula HSR Plan Gains Momentum
Last week the Bay Area Council came out with a new plan for Peninsula HSR that would electrify Caltrain, bring HSR to the Transbay Terminal, and have the Metropolitan Transportation Commission oversee the process.
This week the plan appears to be gathering momentum:
“That’s part of what prompted us to consider getting involved,” said Adrienne Tissier, a San Mateo County supervisor who serves as chairwoman of the transportation commission and also sits on the Caltrain board.
At today’s meeting, Tissier plans to ask the commission’s planning staff to take on the high-speed rail effort. She expects the commission will have about a year and a half to work with the rail authority before the spring 2013 deadline for a final San Francisco-San Jose plan.
And the Bay Area Council is getting even more serious about the plan, hiring Gavin Newsom’s former campaign manager to lead the effort:
“We see this as the way forward to save this project,” said John Grubb, a senior vice president of the Bay Area Council, a pro-business advocacy group.
The council, working with Metropolitan Transportation Commission officials, is calling for formation of a coalition of Bay Area transportation agencies and cities to work with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to come up with an acceptable plan to run high-speed trains between San Jose and San Francisco, perhaps at less-than-high speeds. The group also plans to hire San Francisco lobbyist Alex Tourk to help build business backing.
Jim Wunderman, president and CEO, of the Bay Area Council, explains the thinking that went into the effort:
“There were some assumptions made that everyone was flat-out excited about high-speed rail,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “The concerns of the cities along the line weren’t anticipated by the authority, and by the time they realigned their operations to deal with that, it was too late for a second chance at making a good first impression.”
Clearly, the BAC has decided that it’s too late to push back against the NIMBYism and that instead some sort of deal has to be struck. While I am not sure they’re right, I can understand why they’re taking the approach they are, especially with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo pushing hard for something like this. And as I said when discussing the BAC proposal last week, this could work out OK – but there are some important issues to take care of, including ensuring that whatever hybrid plan is reached can accommodate the passenger rail traffic that it needs to carry.
Others are raising these concerns:
“A scaled-back plan is good,” said Marian Lee, head of the Caltrain Modernization Project, “but can we get enough trains through our corridor – high-speed and Caltrain – to make it work?”
That’s one of the key questions the Bay Area Council plan needs to answer. While the plan might make political sense (and that’s still an open question) it might not make operational sense. In the end, that’s what matters. NIMBYism is a temporary phenomenon, but whatever does get built will have to last us for a while. Let’s make sure that the hybrid solution doesn’t undermine Caltrain or HSR, but that if it does go forward, it provides a strong basis to grow passenger rail ridership on the Peninsula, whether the destination is local, regional, or across the state.