Posted Nov 5, 2010, 10:21 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: San Gabriel Valley
^ This isn't an example of heavy bias?:
Reactions to San Gabriel Valley high-speed rail plan vary
By Adolfo Flores, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/04/2010 06:30:55 PM PDT
ALHAMBRA - No route is set - that won't happen until 2014 - for a proposed high-speed rail project through the San Gabriel Valley.
But that hasn't stopped Valley residents and officials from drawing their own conclusions, both good and bad, about its local impacts.
While some residents in cities located on four routes being considered for the project fear it will ultimately destroy their homes and property values, others see a potential economic boon.
"It creates jobs, economic opportunity for the San Gabriel Valley and development opportunities," said Rene Bobadilla, city manager for El Monte, which could end up with a high-speed rail station if the project is built along the I-10 Freeway, one of the four paths being considered.
California High Speed Rail Authority officials estimate Phase II of the project, which would extend the line 170 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego along an easterly route through San Bernardino County, will officials estimate will be completed in 2035.
But even as consultants for the authority continue meeting with residents of dozens of cities, gathering input on where residents think the train should go, a political shift in Congress this week could put funding for high-speed rail in jeopardy.
On Thursday, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who is expected to became chairman of the House Transportation Committee, announced he plans to re-examine the $10 billion in federal grants awarded for high-speed rail projects. The California High-Speed Rail Authority received the biggest chunk of that funding - $2.3 billion.
Mica tends to favor high-speed rail for the northeastern parts of the country, citing it as the only region with a population density great enough to financially support a high-speed rail network.
In an e-mail, Rachel Wall, an authority spokeswoman, said the authority "looks forward to working with the U.S. House Transportation Committee as our project moves forward."
But the project remains at least 25 years away from breaking ground.
Even so, Alhambra residents Frank and Francis Hernandez sounded convinced the train will end up traveling on a route next to their Ramona Road home, dooming their property value.
"Who's going to want to live next to a train?" asked Frank.
At a recent meeting, authority consultants heard from dozens of worried residents equally concerned about property values, noise and the potential eyesore the project might bring.
Four proposed routes would travel east and west through the Valley. They include a line running down the median of the 10 Freeway, a route along the median of the 60 freeway, and two options that would either utilize existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks through Industry and Pico Rivera, or run parallel to the track, skirting Whittier.
All four options are merely on paper at this point.
Even so, Union Pacific officials have already nixed the idea of allowing high-speed trains to use their tracks and have also rejected placing new tracks next to their freight lines.
Meanwhile, the Gold Line Eastside Extension project is working on the approval of an environmental impact report, expected to be completed by the end of next year, that would allow it to extend the Gold Line along the 60 Freeway to Claremont.
That leaves the proposed route along the I-10 at the most likely path for the high-speed rail project.
While officials can't promise the project won't encroach on homes, businesses or schools along the I-10, rail authority officials insist current plans call for the route to stay on the freeway median.
"We will work to stay within the freeway right-of-way," Genoveva Arellano, outreach manager the project. "The authority is looking to reduce negative impacts wherever possible."
Wall said the authority continues to work with Union Pacific, hoping the company will change its mind about not allowing the project near its tracks.
But Dan Bednarski, who runs www.alhambra123.org, a website that's monitoring the project, isn't convinced. He cites the fact that the authority has no power over Union Pacific.
The Alhambra City Council is opposed to the rail going outside the freeway or on an elevated structure along the median of the I-10, said City Manager Julio Fuentes, who thanked residents at a recent meeting for showing up to voice their concerns.
"You've been really effective up to this point. When they first started out, they were looking north or south of the freeway," Fuentes said. "At this point, they have abandoned those options and are focusing on staying on the freeway."
Wall said it's still much too early to determine the specific impacts of having the line run along the I-10. including on property values.
"We are looking to reducing negative impacts wherever possible. We've made that commitment," she said.
Authority officials believe high-speed rail could play an integral role in improving mobility throughout the state and relieving congestion, particularly on Southern California's chronically congested freeways.
Jessica Keating, assistant to the city manager for Alhambra, said that while the project is still years away, it's no pipe dream. The planning for it is going on now, she noted, saying she hoped the authority will listen to residents' concerns and present other route alternatives besides the four now being considered or in the case of the I-10 a tunnel or at-grade alignment within the median.
"We are a very dense area and we do have congestion, but I don't know that this is the right fit," said Keating. "We're not opposed to high-speed rail, but it has to be constructed right."
The city of El Monte hasn't taken a position on the rail, but Bobadilla said officials there are excited about the project, adding the line could connect into the $45 million El Monte Metro Bus Station expected to be completed in May 2012.
"It's an opportunity for the state of California to move forward, get off freeways and onto public transportation," Bobadilla said.
In 2008, voters approved Proposition 1A, which provided $9 billion for high-speed rail construction and another $950 million to improve streets, freeways and other transit elements that would connect to the line.
Additional funds are expected to come from the federal government, private investors and local governments.
"We're looking for a major commitment - $17 to $19 billion from the federal government. So far we've received nearly $2.5 billion," Wall said. "We expect private investors to come in at the end."
Wall said other countries with high-speed trains - such as China - have expressed interest in funding the project.
Mike Zdon, associate vice president of San Diego-based project consultant HNTB, said high-speed trains are "generally not as noisy as existing trains."
To reduce noise, officials said the trains will run at speeds of 125 mph or less in the Los Angeles area and will not operate between midnight and 5 a.m.
Because the trains will operate on dedicated tracks, blaring horns won't be needed in many areas along the route, officials said.
In a letter to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, Dan Leavitt, deputy director of the High-Speed Rail Authority, said officials plan to ensure that "homes, schools and businesses along the corridor sustain minimal impacts."
But Bednarski wants those assurance to come directly from the authority's board of director, who hold decision-making powers.
"It has to come from the board. Right now I believe they plan on staying on the I-10, but we'll see," he said.