Thursday, June 09, 2016

CHSRA Meeting Recap

In case you weren't able to make it to the High-Speed Rail meeting on Monday, here are some observations. CHSRA had several information stations around the perimeter of the meeting room. These areas covered station planning, right of way issues, environmental review process, Caltrain electrification, and alignments.

The station design area featured two boards, each with an overhead view depicting Diridon Station and including track alignment in and out. One board showed the at-grade alignment and the other showed the aerial alignment. Bruce Fukuji of CHSRA discussed some of the issues regarding the two options. For one, the at-grade option required the ability for UPRR freight trains to be able to cut across all of the tracks from the spur that runs southeast of the station. The coordination of which could halt freight trains, local trains, high-speed trains, or all of the above. Secondly at-grade requires a number of compromises to the scheduling of the trains in order to prevent them from stacking up one behind the other. The aerial route alleviates each of these concerns. HSR would have dedicated tracks at the station and for a period on each end of the station. One item not depicted particularly well was the aerial route north of the station. It was easy to tell that those tracks were off to the east of the existing tracks and over a corner of the SAP Center's north parking lot. The ramifications on the area beyond that could not be determined as that area was not presented - this meeting was for the San José to Merced section.

The right of way (ROW) table dealt with the process of private property acquisition. The staff working this table did not know what properties would need to be acquired under either alignment option. They could however, tell attendees about the process should they decide they need land you may own. The first step of which is to appraise the value of the property. The entity that would purchase the land is the same entity that would determine its value. If the value was disputed by the property owner, the property owner could then receive up to $5,000 from the state to have the value of her land assessed by a licensed appraiser. CHSRA would not necessarily honor the new appraisal. If this process still does not result in the agreement of both parties a condemnation trial begins. If the property owner wins the case, her appraisal fees and attorney costs would be paid by CHSRA. The property owner will be given a minimum of 90 days notice, is eligible for advisory assistance in relocation, and may qualify for moving related expenses. If the property owner feels she has lost business she must submit a claim to prove it.

The environmental review process overview was given verbally so it was a bit more difficult to understand. The Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR/S) itself is requires a number of steps and a significant amount of paperwork often in great detail leading to the final design of the project. The CHSRA strategy appears to be re-using the initial EIR/S from several years ago, though that pre-dates the blended system design that is currently being considered.

The Caltrain Planner Jill Gibson explained that regardless of the option (at-grade or aerial) Caltrain would be electrifying two tracks for their trains. In the event an aerial alignment is chosen by CHSRA, both existing tracks would be electrified and a third, non-electrified track to accommodate freight trains would not be required between Tamien and Diridon stations.

The alignments table was staffed by Gary Kennerley of Parsons Brinckerhoff. It featured very long strips of satellite imagery of the proposed alignments along with section views showing two options of at-grade rail beds through North Willow Glen. One option, similar to the current cross section features sloping sides of dirt and rock that build up the rail bed. This would require the acquisition of yet to be determined parcels that would all but certainly include most of Fuller Park, Word of Faith Church, and other properties located south of the existing tracks. The other at-grade section would not require property takes. CHSRA would avoid this by removing the mature pine trees that separate the rail bed from the Fuller Park and constructing walls possibly 12 to 18 feet tall at the edge of the current ROW. Presentation renderings of this were grim, showing an imposing gray wall with some vegetation planted along the side. The remains of the park were a strip of grass and the existing fencing.

The aerial alignment option uses much of the existing ROW of I-280 and CA87, crossing over both of them and approaching the station above the existing tracks. To achieve this, some pillar supports would need to be placed north of I-280 near or over Orchard Supply to Diridon Station.

CHSRA staff presented the plan for the San José to Merced section. One of the more surprising pieces of information was from CHSRA Regional Director and former San José Transportation Systems Manager Ben Tripousis who said there would be no cost to San Jose for high-speed rail. Speaker comments and a Q & A period followed.

Commenters repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with CHSRA outreach. Fliers were distributed only to houses on the north side of Fuller Avenue and the south side of Jerome Avenue 24 hours before the meeting started. The meeting itself would not have happened had it not been for residents asking the offices of Raul Peralez and Pierluigi Oliverio to ensure it happened. Other neighbors noted the repeated division of the Greater Gardner neighborhood, first by UPRR, then I-280, and again by CA87. Adding walls and taking more properties would continue to isolate the area whereas the aerial route would benefit HSR efficiency without further impacting this part of Willow Glen. Others added that the burden of transportation was once again being born disproportionally by poor and Hispanic families, bringing up social justice issues with the at-grade option. It was for many of these same reasons that CHSRA decided in favor of the aerial option and against the at-grade alignment themselves, only to return years later trying to return to the at-grade alignment. Residents noted the complete lack of materials showing any underground option. In response, Mr. Tripousis added that the underground options would be contained in the EIR/S and it was not off the table. Ironically, tunnel drawings were not on any table in the room. Attendees pointed out that both north- and south-of-Diridon Station issues are resolved by going under ground. Budgetary questions were asked repeatedly. It was pointed out that the Prop 1A budget for the project was $40M yet the current projection is $64M. Mr. Tripousis insisted the project was not over budget because the budget is $68M and that CHSRA builds as the money becomes available. The final major thread of questions came with regard to the legality of the project overall. Commenters noted that Prop 1A specified that California would have a dedicated high-speed rail system and that a blended system could not be built without the consent of the people through a new measure.

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