High Speed Rail Project Has Mojo, But Expect a Bumpy Trip

4_27_10_hsr.jpgImage: Metro.net

In perhaps the strongest sign yet of just how politically potent the statewide high speed rail project has become, a bid by a Republican Assemblywoman to squelch the project has fallen flat (Assembly Bill 2121) and as a face-saving move the bill has been amended to merely mandate the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) submit funding reports as it goes forward with the project.

As I noted in a prior commentary, the buzz this project now generates floors me. For the longest time it received scant attention or respect.

Now if anything is it suffering from "too many cooks" as jurisdictions and interest groups clamor to offer their two cents. The most prominent example of this is the recent request of local transportation agency heads Art Leahy (of Metro) and Will Kempton (of OCTA) for CHSRA to reconsider shared use options for the Los Angeles to Anaheim segment of the project.

Leslie Pollock at the recent American Planning Association conference outlined why many high speed rail supporters look askance at share use being compatible with true high speed service.

But this may be a case where the locals have a good point. In discussing this situation with local advocate Jerard Wright, he pointed out to me this is a key corridor worthy of upgrades whether it is served by full out high speed service and supplemental services or perhaps a half hourly bullet train from Anaheim that services Los Angeles and continues on the the Bay Area (and vice versa) along with a more blended mix of upgraded existing Metrolink and Amtrak services. I would imagine Leahy and Kempton would agree that is about the level of service the coastal stub (the high speed line in Orange County will only go as far south as Irvine) will require for the foreseeable future. That factor would allow a less impactful plan for the corridor of the sort local officials have put forward of late.

The good thing is all the stakeholders are now at the table and talking. Not so long ago that wasn't really happening. I keep noting this is a huge project, on a scale comparable to the construction of the state aqueduct. Our California civic culture is grappling with how to deal this new and unfamiliar kind of challenge, which admittedly at times results in zigs and bumps as the project goes forward. That is the price you pay for being a pioneer.