Is the CHSRA Really Considering the San Gabriel Tunnel?
According to Dan Weikel at the Los Angeles Times, the California High Speed Rail Authority is giving serious consideration to LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s proposal to put the bullet train tracks in a tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains. The thing is, I can’t tell if the CHSRA is just humoring Antonovich or whether they might actually do it:
“We ought to take a serious look at this,” said Jeff Morales, the authority’s chief executive. “I continually push our team to look at ideas and to solicit and listen to what we get from the outside. We are sensitive to community input, and we’ve heard the concerns of Acton, Agua Dulce and Santa Clarita. That matters.”
Antonovich first approached the authority with his idea several years ago, but board members and the chief executive at the time were reluctant to work with the range of federal environmental agencies that would have to be involved in planning and approving a route through a national forest. With the arrival of Morales and board Chairman Dan Richard, the agency has been more receptive.
“We’ve had some discussions and talked to the supervisor,” Morales said. “I’m impressed by his focus to bring improvements to that part of the county and state. He’s pushed hard and we’ve listened.”
Morales and Richard are careful to not say they plan to endorse the proposal, but neither are they simply dismissing it:
Although none of the proposals have been fully vetted, Morales said there could be advantages to Antonovich’s plan, including lower construction costs and shorter travel times. The trip would take an estimated 15 minutes, 7 to 10 minutes less than the highway routes.
In addition, both Morales and the supervisor said there would be substantial benefits from reducing the project’s effects on communities along the 14 Freeway, where the population has grown at least 24% in the last decade.
Nowhere in the article are the costs or risks of a tunnel discussed, which I find surprising given that the LA Times usually does not miss a chance to criticize the project. I don’t mind it, but I have to believe that, rightly or wrongly, cost is going to be the primary factor in deciding whether this tunnel moves ahead.
Personally I’m all for giving this tunnel proposal serious, genuine consideration. I dislike the possibility of bypassing Santa Clarita and its population. The tunnels are risky, especially building one that long. But there are potential benefits to consider as well, and a thorough vetting is certainly warranted.
What isn’t helpful are clearly absurd complaints like those from Kathryn Phillips, who did indeed take this opportunity to slam HSR:
“The environmental impacts would be enormous,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, which generally supports the high-speed rail project. “Going through a national forest isn’t going to sit well with my members.”
First off, this is inaccurate, Phillips generally opposes the high speed rail project. But what environmental impacts exactly would result from a tunnel deep below the forest? It would preserve more trees than the alternative. It wouldn’t cross migration corridors or displace habitat. And most importantly, it helps reduce CO2 emissions (as would a Highway 14 route), which should be the Sierra Club California’s top priority unless they’ve suddenly become pro-global warming and pro-drought.
Heck, I might even be willing to back a tunnel just to spite the clueless Phillips. Maybe. We’ll see…