The following is the text of a letter that was hand delivered to California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark following his Sept. 29, 2010 speech to the San Jose Rotary Club by San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies. In an unprecedented show of unity, the letter was signed by leaders of 10 central San Jose neighborhood associations and the heads of the city’s two leading business associations.
Neighborhood and business groups in central San Jose urge the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to include an underground option for San Jose in the project’s Environment Impact Report.
While we continue to support high-speed rail, the decision on the alignment through downtown San Jose requires further study. The San Jose City Council meeting Sept. 14 on this issue raised a new set of questions deserving timely answers:
1. We did not hear CHSRA staff nor City of San Jose Department of Transportation (CSJ DOT) staff present any “fatal flaws” for continued study of underground options. CHSRA staff stated that a San Jose tunnel was “unfeasible and impractical.” The unfeasible justification centered on cost. CHSRA and CSJ DOT staff reports to the San Jose City Council nearly doubled the underground project costs from $1.3 billion in June to $2.5billion, while aerial costs were announced at $500 million. CHSRA staffs’ explanation on Sept. 14 assigned the tunnel’s cost escalation primarily “to accommodate future development.”
a) What are the specific “accommodations” CHSRA staff estimated that added more than $1 billion to San Jose’s underground costs?
View the complete letter to California High Speed Rail Association CEO Roelof van Ark, including an analysis of the underground option.
b) What alternative “accommodations” did CHSRA consider other than a mat foundation covering the entire site for San Jose’s underground option?
c) Do the cost comparisons (tunnel versus aerial) include the potential value of future ‘air rights’ for development on top of a tunnel alignment?
d) Are there any corresponding potential development rights for the aerial scenario?
e) Is the cost of an ‘iconic’ above ground station included in the aerial cost estimate’?
f) If San Jose insists on world-class quality station and aerial structure architecture, who would pay for the additional cost?
g) The aerial alignment will likely have significant ongoing maintenance costs associated with graffiti removal, homeless encampments, rail wear on the “S” turn and “wheel squeal” noise abatement. Have these recurring expenses been factored into a net present value “cost” when compared to the underground option?
2. The BART project has selected tunnels and a subway station in the very same vicinity that CHSRA does not want to continue study for a tunnel and station. CHSRA has used “unstable soils” as one of its reasons for stating the tunnel is unfeasible while clearly it was feasible for BART.
a) How is it possible BART finds underground feasible but not CHSRA?
b) What soil sampling did CHSRA conduct in addition to those samples drawn for BART?
c) Where were the CHSRA samples taken?
d) What are the differences with the nearby tunnel recommended for further study by CHSRA
just north of this area near the San Jose/Santa Clara border?
3. On Sept. 14, CHSRA and CSJ DOT staff said the tunnel option would take seven years of construction and “tear up the city.” Our BART project managers explicitly demonstrated how they could shorten
construction and minimize impacts for the San Jose underground route that utilizes bored tunnels and cut and cover stations.
a) How did CHSRA staff arrive at the construction period for the underground option, and likewise, its estimates for the aerial construction?
b) What analysis was done on construction strategies that could shorten the tirneline and construction impacts?
4. CHSRA staff also reported on Sept . 14 that “80 property casements” are needed for the underground option.
a) Please elucidate the characteristics of these easements, such as whether they are deep underground easements and how they might impact existing or future property use.
b) Additionally, what sort of financial compensation is associated with these easements?
c) In the Sept. 14 meeting, your staff did not elaborate on the “about 10” property takings needed for the aerial option, nor did your staff indicate the number of property takings required in the aerial alignment north of Diridon, which looks like a much bigger number than 10 with some potential larger acquisitions required. How were all these property acquisitions for the aerial structure from Taylor to Tamien accounted for in your preliminary design, public
outreach and cost estimates?
5. The City of San Jose requested on several occasions - both in writing and in person at CHSRA board meetings - that CHSRA study a “best” underground alignment.
a) CHSRA staff rejected both the deep tunnel and hallow tunnel options in its June report. How and when was it determined that these two tunnel alignments were the “best” underground alignments and that no other alignment would resolve any of the concerns, such as conflict with the Native American burial site at Tamien?
b) CHSRA staff on Sept. 14 said they had completed “almost 15 percent engineering” on San Jose’s tunnel options. Was this level of engineering work included for both the shallow and deep tunnel alignments in the June Alternative Analysis report?
c) Which underground alignment did CHSRA staff ultimately conclude the “best option” as requested by San Jose and why was it deemed the “best?”
6. Because the City of San Jose has been asking CHSRA since Dec. 2009 to seek and analyze a “best” underground alignment and CHSRA now recommends no further study of the “best” underground option—or any other underground options—we are concemed about the
integrity of the EIR process.
a) How will the EIR not be defective and at risk of legal actions by interested parties outside of San Jose who are determined to undermine the entire project?
b) Since federal law mandates a full EIR must include all viable options. how will the project’s EIR be complete if CHSRA eliminates San Jose’s underground options before the study?
7. The CHSRA Alternative Analysis report and appendix released the same morning of the Authority’s June 3 board meeting eliminated all alignment options through Central San Jose except the so-called SR87/I280 aerial route, preferred by CHSRA and CSJ DOT staff.
a) For whal reasons does CHSRA choose to re lease recommendations and reports after public hearings are underway?
b) How does this benefit the public participation process and foster collaborative decision-making?
c) For what reasons does CHSRA release reports without sufficient supporting empirical data for the decision (aerial alignment) contained within the report?
d) How will the lack of specific detail in the CHSRA’s released documents to date on San Jose’s alignment options inform or place at risk the subsequent EIR process?
8. CHSRA staff indicated the tunnel option would be detrimental to development in the Diridon Area. Most metropolitan areas have utilized the joint public-private development approach to preserve future development opportunities and build substantial structures on top of tunnels and underground stations.
a) Why is this development approach utilized around the world not viable in San Jose?
b) Everyone encourages transit-oriented development around stations. How did CHSRA staff reach its conclusion that such development would be enhanced by the aerial structure more than the underground option when experience tells us differently (San Francisco Transbay Terminal, etc .)?
9. As for an underground option in San Jose being “impractical,” the preponderance of responses given at the Sept. 14 council meeting were about timing: potential delay to the project in order to study the underground, plus potential delays to the funding stream.
Given our understanding the San Jose to San Francisco section is in the initial project phase (not San Jose to Merced):
a) How are the San Jose to Merced decisions impacted? For instance, how does the timing on the northern SF-SJ route drive the decisions on the southern alignment?
b) How will the delays that are apparent from city council actions on the Peninsula for the SF-SJ section allow more time to study options in San Jose?
c) Earlier this month, Caltrain officials suggested phasing construction to allow more time to study trenching and tunneling along the Peninsula in those communities that requested it. How would this approach allow for further comprehensive study of a tunnel alignment in San Jose?
10. Impractical can mean many things, which is why it would seem the environmental factors are critical to study at this stage of the project. Neighborhood groups throughout Central San Jose are particularly interested in these elements. While we understand the EIR has yet to be released and the analysis in the EIR may differ, the attached chart is an example of issues that could be vetted in the EJR, particularly as it pertains to the tunnel in comparison
to the aerial. The second attachment is a copy of the summary from the scoping document submitted to CHSRA in April 2009 for a tunnel option that CHSRA withdrew prior to the release of your June 2010 Alternatives Analysis.
a ) For what reasons and when did CHSRA staff reject these and other underground options in San Jose, such as the deep and shallow tunnel alignments?
b) For what reason did CHSRA not combine elements from multiple alignments to achieve a “best” underground option for San Jose?
c) For what reason did CHSRA not evaluate other areas besides Tamien Station for a tunnel portal since it is well known the area is a sensitive archeological site?
11. The incremental cost estimates given for accommodating a shared underground BART station with high-speed rail were $l40 million in your June report. It is our understanding this estimate was for the shallow tunnel high-speed rail option (HSR running above BART tracks).
a) How does this incremental underground cost, if at all, include the potential efficiencies from BART and high-speed rail sharing station construction and infrastructure? Please include the criteria assumptions and computations you used to make your estimate.
12. By virtue of spliuing the two Bay Area high-speed rail sections at Diridon Station, it is difficult for San Jose to receive a complete picture of the project in our city.
a) How will future planning documents about the north and south of Diridon Station areas provide improved transparency, accountability and increased coordinations?
b) At what point will a comprehensive look at the Diridon Station Area—north and south—be prepared and offered for local public input prior to the completion of the EIR process?
Thank you for addressing our questions and the continued consideration of a tunnel option for San Jose.
San Jose Downtown Association
San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce
Shasta Hanchett Park Neighborhood Association
Willow Glen Neighborhood Association
Market Almaden Neighborhood Association
Burbank/Del Monte Neighborhood Action Coalition
San Jose Downtown Residents Association
Rose Garden Preservation Neighborhood Association
Delmas Park Nelghborbood Association
Newhall Neighborhood Association
College Park Neighborhood Association