Five Cities Call for Common Sense in High Speed Rail Planning
MENLO PARK, Calif. – July 6, 2010 – The five cities belonging to the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) are asking the California High Speed Rail Authority to take a step back and resolve troublesome issues with high speed rail before proceeding with the project.
In a statement issued July 6, the five cities – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame – announce, “High speed rail should be built right or not at all. By ‘right,’ we mean that the rail line should integrate into our communities without harming their current livability. The best design and community values, rather than finances, should determine the alignment.”
PCC Chair Richard Cline, mayor of Menlo Park, explained that the five cities are concerned that key problems with the project may not be resolved because of the intense pressure being exerted by the Authority’s desire to qualify for federal stimulus funding. Construction needs to begin on the project by September 2012 and finish by September 2017 in order for California to qualify for a $2.25 billion federal grant.
“Common sense is absent from the high speed rail discussion. Right now the Authority plans to select a final alignment and release its draft environmental impact report by December of this year under an extremely rushed project schedule that is dictated solely by the desire for federal funds,” Cline said.
He added, “The project is suffering from an enormous credibility problem, due to its widely criticized business plan, faulty ridership numbers and the absence of funding to carry out the project statewide – let alone offer realistic alternatives for the section planned on the Peninsula. There also is no stated plan for paying to operate high speed rail once it is built, and we fear local taxpayers may be left holding the bag.”
Cline explained, “Our cities have been frustrated with the Authority’s inability to answer questions and a contradictory message that we should select the alternative we most prefer while, at the same time, being told by board members that our cities will have to pay for anything other than the cheapest alternative.”
Instead, the five PCC cities say high speed rail should be part of a comprehensive regional public transit plan and that the California High Speed Rail Authority should:
- Provide a valid business and financial plan that supports the full range of alternatives proposed and satisfies the requirements of the state Legislative Analyst’s Office
- Demonstrate to state leaders that the plan will not require operating subsidies from local taxpayers in the future
- Provide ridership studies to support the project that are validated by an independent peer review body that is responsible to the state Legislature
- Increase and enhance local Caltrain service and improve Caltrain infrastructure as a condition of using the Caltrain corridor
In the statement, the five cities also ask that local communities be empowered in the decision-making process by giving transportation goals and community goals equal weight, and by affirming that the best design with the least impact on communities, rather than finances, will determine the alignment chosen for each section of the rail line.
They ask for sufficient time to evaluate proposed alternatives and environmental impacts and to carry out the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) community consensus-building process. While high speed rail officials have endorsed using CSS for the Peninsula section of the project, Cline noted, “CSS is not working. The sped-up timeline for the project has short-circuited and compromised this very thorough eight-step process.”
The cities also ask for funding that “will allow the full range of alternatives to be considered without expecting local cities to contribute substantially to the cost” and request reimbursement for city expenses related to evaluation of project proposals.
Cline credited the PCC for calling attention to many of the problems with high speed rail that the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state Auditor’s Office and numerous state legislators are now focusing on. “Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said it well in a recent editorial,” Cline noted, “when she said, “The High Speed Rail Authority has to hit the reset button, improve its reputation and assuage Peninsula residents, who have every reason to fear that this project will be a nightmare.”
The full text of the PCC’s mission and principles, as well as a list of the organization’s accomplishments, can be viewed on the PCC website at www.peninsularail.com.
For more information about the PCC, visit the website or email email@example.com.