High Speed Rail rejects options

HighSpeedCalifornia High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) officials said they will only consider building an aerial structure with train tracks 72 feet high through downtown San Jose.

CHSRA engineers have dismissed an underground option in San Jose for years, citing unsuitable soil conditions” – even though BART is building a tunnel and station at the same location near Diridon Station.

What surprised community members at a meeting Aug. 2 was CHSRA also rejected the at-grade option – despite its plans to run in a shared at-grade alignment with Caltrain down San Francisco Peninsula – with aerial tracks starting in the city of Santa Clara that must soar above the I-880 and I-280 freeways – with downtown San Jose in between.

However, the City of San Jose Department of Transportation has hired its own engineering experts to independently study the feasibility of the two alignments rejected by CHSRA.

Exeltech Engineers of Seattle and geotechnical and tunneling firms Shannon & Wilson and HartCrowser will look into the underground option, and HDR Engineering of Walnut Creek will take a closer look at the at-grade alignments from south San Jose through Diridon Station to Santa Clara.

The consultants have been retained to “effectively represent the City’s interests on the project and to respond to questions and concerns that have been raised by City staff, elected officials, members of the community and the community working group on the various alignments for the project,” said Jim Ortbal, city director of transportation.

Though many community groups, including SJDA, believe high-speed rail would present an economic opportunity for San Jose, they are concerned that CHSRA is giving San Jose short-shrift by building massive aerial viaducts, with support towers every 100 feet, thereby saving money for other expensive aspects of the project, most notably grade separations along
the peninsula and underground into downtown San Francisco.

HighSpeedCalifornia voters in 2008 approved $40 billion for a train system that would take riders from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about three hours. The estimated cost has increased more than 50 percent to $64 billion.

SJDA and other groups want to ensure the project through San Jose makes sense functionally, aesthetically and financially.

Reactions to High-Speed Rail’s alignment presentation Aug. 2, which featured a video cartoon of a construction worker calling for help as an underground cavity filled with water, ranged from disgust to outrage.

“It was expected that CHSRA staff would use the meeting to reinforce their preferred aerial alignment through Diridon Station, but the manner in which they did it was dismissive and at times insulting,” said Scott Knies, SJDA executive director.

“Gutless and uninspired” is what Salas O’Brien founding partner Carl Salas called the CHSRA approach to San Jose. “The whole thing had been set up to throw a couple uncreative engineers in front of the crowd to eventually say: ‘That’s why an underground tunnel and station is not feasible,’ ” Salas said.

No timing yet on when the city will be ready to present their consultants’ conclusions. CHSRA’s published schedule shows formal selection of a “preferred alignment” this month and the completion of the Merced-to-San Jose Environmental Impact Report in August 2018.