Get an HSR Routing Primer Before Scoping Hearings Begin Tomorrow

10_20_09_hsr.jpgImage: California High Speed Rail Authority

Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the plethora of meetings on various
projects such as the Crenshaw, Expo Phase II, Wilshire BRT, Harbor Subdivision,
Gold Line eastside Phase II, Westside Subway Extension, Regional
Connector
now occurring or upcoming?

Too bad! Public scoping meetings are being held this month by the California HighSpeed Rail
Authority
(CHSRA) to solicit public input for the development of
the project Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR/EIS) for the Los
Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire Section of the proposed
California HighSpeed Train System (HST).

Meetings
will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can arrive and participate
at any time during those hours. All will be formatted identically,
so attend at the location most convenient for you. It appears the
Authority is following the informal drop in/open house format generally
favored by agencies in the early stages of outreach with display
boards, staff and/or consultants on hand to answer questions, cards
available to be filled out with any comments you wish to submit,
perhaps some opportunities to make verbal comments or even to see a
brief presentation on the proposed project.

The meetings in our area are being held in
the San Gabriel Valley, where the line from Los Angeles to San Diego is
to be routed through.  A complete list of the L.A. County meetings can be found here, in the Streetsblog calendar section.

Public comments can also be submitted on the Authority’s website or
by writing to Mr. Dan Leavitt, Deputy Director, ATTN: Los Angeles to
San Diego via the Inland Empire Section HST Project EIR/EIS, California
HighSpeed Rail
Authority, 925 L Street, Suite 1425, Sacramento, CA 95814, or via email
with subject line “LA-SD HST Section via the Inland Empire” to: comments@hsr.ca.gov no later than November 20, 2009.

For more information, call: (909) 627-2974 or (916) 324-1541.

For an overview of why the CHSRA chose a route through the Inland Empire instead of down the coast, read on after the jump.

I’m
sure some are curious why the CHSRA choose to connect Los Angeles and
San Diego via the Inland Empire instead of the more direct routing
along the coast. From my years following this project I’ll offer my
cliffnotes on why this is so.

There are a number of obstacles to using the coastal corridor. The
right of way in some places is narrow and also traverses
environmentally sensitive areas. As the faq "How is this project
different from other previous attempts to implement highspeed train systems in the U.S.?" on the CHSRA website notes:

The California HighSpeed Rail
Authority (Authority) considered but rejected a coastal alignment
between Los Angeles and San Diego as part of its certified Statewide
Program EIR/EIS (November 2005). The Authority concluded that limited
existing right-of-way and sensitive coastal resources made highspeed train service on the coastal rail corridor infeasible.  You can read more on the routing choices at the CAHSR’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

Another
factor is opposition from the coastal communities of Southern Orange
County and Northern San Diego County. While cities like Anaheim and
Irvine are eager to be part of the system, communities along the
coast further south are hotbeds of NIMBY pushback (e.g. San Juan
Capistrano and Encinitas). That is why the spur line serving Orange
County goes no further South than Irvine. Plus the folks in the Inland
Empire want the project to serve their region and have been actively
lobbying for it to do so during the past decade. Similar lobbying by
Palmdale and Lancaster is the reason why the project goes through the
Antelope Valley instead of along the grapevine/I-5 corridor to reach
L.A. from the Central Valley.

To see an interactive map of the proposed route, click here.

  • Larry Hogue

    I attended one of these scoping meetings in San Diego, and found it to be almost content-free. It was mostly a dog-and-pony show selling the benefits of HSR, with little to no information on the specific routings or the benefits and drawbacks of the alternatives. So if you have any concerns about specific routings of the line, I’d suggest reading the Program EIR.

    Here in San Diego, we’re concerned about the way in which one viable route alternative was thrown out after the Program EIR. The EIR found that a route straight down I-15 to Mission Valley/Qualcomm stadium was the cheapest, fastest, had the highest ridership, and had the least environmental impact. It connects with the San Diego Trolley system, and the bus hub at Fashion Valley Mall could easily be moved there, so it’s “intermodal”. Mission Valley is centrally located in San Diego, with hotels, office buildings, newly approved mixed use developments, and two universities nearby.

    But this route was rejected because it “doesn’t go downtown.” The only alternatives left on the table increase the ride time, cost a lot more (and astronomically more if done in the most environmentally sensitive manner), pass through environmentally sensitive areas, Open Space Parks, and Multiple Species Conservation Areas, and have lower ridership (350,000 fewer riders per year).

    And now, the powers that be in San Diego have just about convinced the HSRA to move the San Diego station out of downtown to the new “Destination Lindbergh.” There’s nothing walkable around Lindbergh Field, and it’s not really a good site for walkable mixed-use development, sandwiched as it is between I-5 and the airport. The ridership study shows that only a tiny, insignificant fraction of riders would take the train to the plane. But conversely, locating the HSR at Destination Lindbergh would make this project’s transit ridership look great, even though almost none of those riders really want to go there. (Really, this is how things work in San Diego, it’s why we’re called “Enron by the Sea.”)

    HSR is a good thing in general, though I think improvements in our existing rail infrastructure are even more important. (For instance, one engineer estimates that for a fraction of the cost of the LA-SD HSR, you could make enough improvements on the coastal rail line to cut the train trip from LA to SD from 3 hours to 2.) It would just be too bad if local power politics give us a watered-down, ineffective, and environmentaly damaging project.

  • Matthew

    @Larry: First of all, don’t say “we’re concerned”, when you mean “you”. I’ll bet you’re one of those Rose Canyon people, fighting the Regents Road bridge.

    You have some good points, but I think you overemphasize some of the benefits of Qualcomm Stadium. When I get off a trolley there, I feel like I’ve been dropped in the middle of a fast chasm of nothingness. The only walkable destinations are Ikea and Costco – hardly suitable for foot traffic.

    That easy route down the median of the I15 between Miramar and Qualcomm is already claimed by CalTrans for the future FasTrak lanes. And Qualcomm Stadium itself has a very uncertain future, being tugged many different directions by the Chargers, the city, and other developers. One thing is guaranteed: In 20 years, you won’t have 19,000 parking spots there anymore.

    To say that “the bus hub could me moved from Fashion Valley to Qualcomm” ignores that the 8 busses connecting there all come from the north, south, or west, except for the 14. Every other bus would have to be routed 5 miles out of its way to connect there.

    At least the new Lindberg transit hubs are walking distance to Little Italy and Midtown, and a short trolley-hop to downtown AND mission valley (assuming they extend the green line to the new Airport hub).

    As for stopping at Lindberg compared to Downtown, the closer you get to Santa Fe Depot, the more constrained you are in terms of the number of tracks available. It wouldn’t be hard to put in another pair of tracks town to Lindberg, but working out a plan to take the trains all the way downtown will be tough.

    Your ridership numbers overlook an important factor: A Qualcomm Stadium station is replacing two stations (University City and Downtown/lindberg). That’s why the ridership numbers look so different. University City would probably be the destination for most of the biotech business travelers (a high-synergy link to San Francisco), while downtown would harvest most of the traditional business/vacation visitors.

    The improvements to the coastal route will happen as well. In fact, because of the success of the Surfliner route, the coastal route all the way from San Diego to SF (directly to SF – not to Oakland, like the Coast Starlight) is expected to be restored – at first, just 70mph on average, but eventually, at 90-100mph. Remember, 10% of the high speed rail bond is dedicated to improving connecting rail systems.

  • David Galvan

    Very interesting discussion between apparently knowledgable commentors!

    I live in L.A. and have family in San Diego, so improvements to surfliner and/or the HSR component will benefit me either way. Just to clarify, if the HSR goes through destination lindbergh, it will still continue on to Santa Fe Depot, right? If not, then that seems pretty dumb to me. There is no trolley service between downtown and the airport, while Santa Fe Depot has both train and trolley service, and is in central downtown SD.

    One comment on the original post by Dana: while the comment about NIMBYism may be true, does it even matter in this case? Without the NIMBYs, you’d still have the environmental issues keeping the HSR route from going coastal. Makes it seem like you’re just taking a potshot at the NIMBYs, when their opposition is not the primary roadblock.

  • Larry Hogue

    Here’s an article on one scoping meeting in San Diego:
    http://www.lajollalight.com/news/261841-public-provides-input-on-high-speed-rail

    or if that’s too long:
    http://tinyurl.com/yfqjvza

  • Responding to #3 – Mr. Galvin I am unsure your statement “Without the NIMBYs, you’d still have the environmental issues keeping the HSR route from going coastal” is necessarily accurate. Mitigation might have been something the Authority would have explored further but I suspect the NIMBY factor tipped the balance to not doing so. And I don’t think I would be providing readers a full picture if I didn’t mention the significant opposition from the middle coast areas. It is quite vocal and has lasted for decades and shouldn’t be underestimated as a factor in what was decided and why. But of course it is for readers to take the various bits of information offered and decide where the truth lies.

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