Public Comment Begins on Silicon Valley Bullet Train Route

Residents, homeowners, public officials and business owners can begin submitting comments on the draft environmental study for the High Speed Rail section that is slated to pass through the Santa Clara Valley.

The state High Speed Rail Authority released the draft Environmental Impact Report for a 90-mile stretch of the San Jose to Merced section of the line on April 24. A minimum 45-day public comment period will continue June 8; during this time the public can submit questions, comments and concerns about the EIR by email, mail, telephone or via a series of upcoming hearings and open house meetings.

The San Jose to Merced section of the HSR would connect Silicon Valley to the Central Valley with a reliable high-speed travel option, according to HSRA staff. The 90-mile segment studied in the EIR goes from Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara to Carlucci Road in Merced County. The segment will travel through or near the communities of Santa Clara, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Los Banos.

The project includes high-speed rail stations at San Jose Diridon and in Gilroy and a maintenance facility south or southeast of Gilroy.

With the release of the San Jose to Merced section EIR draft, the HSRA is on track to complete environmental certification for the full phase 1 system by the federally mandated 2022 deadline, according to HSRA staff. The final EIR document is expected to be issued in 2021. Officials in Morgan Hill and Gilroy said City Hall staff will be evaluating the draft EIR in the coming weeks. Each city’s elected council is expected to submit comments on the draft EIR to HSRA staff.

The draft EIR submitted by HSRA staff studied four “alternative alignment” options from San Jose to Merced. The document lists the potential environmental impacts from each alignment as well as ideas on how project designers and builders could mitigate those impacts. The EIR also considered the impact of not building the HSR route at all.

The HSRA’s preferred alignment alternative is “Alternative 4,” which would take the bullet train through the downtown areas of both Morgan Hill and Gilroy, along the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine said he remains concerned that the authority’s preferred alternative will be “detrimental” to the city’s downtown and to the community overall. He added that throughout the HSRA’s planning process, the state authority appears to have done little to coordinate the bullet train system with existing Caltrain and other rail traffic on the UP corridor, as well as high volumes of vehicle traffic crossing the tracks on local streets.

Because the rail route crosses three of the busiest streets in Morgan Hill—Tennant, East Dunne and East Main avenues—adding over a dozen bullet trains per hour in combination with existing train traffic is likely to create endless car congestion on these local east-to-west roadways, Constantine suggested.

“I’m not sure what their final plans are going to be” to accommodate all forms of transportation and freight on or near the UP corridor, Constantine said.

Constantine is also worried that Caltrain and HSRA have not coordinated on Caltrain’s vision to electrify the commuter train lines and increase service to South County by 2040. The HSRA’s draft EIR states, “The ultimate details of any future Caltrain service operating south of Tamien Station (in San Jose) would be the subject of future planning and negotiation between the railroads as well as decision by the Caltrain Board.”

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said an alignment along the UP tracks is “probably the best option available to Gilroy.” He noted that’s the option that is most likely to upgrade Caltrain with electrified tracks, whenever that may be.

“With the present situation now, with the pandemic, who knows what kind of timeline we might be looking at,” Velasco said.

The EIR draft document added, “While alternative four would potentially have the greatest impact on emergency vehicle response times, this could be mitigated by the authority working with local jurisdictions to construct and operate new fire stations and install new responder equipment at existing stations.”

The HSRA’s alternative four EIR draft proposes a bullet train station in downtown Gilroy. HSR street crossings would be at-grade at intersections in Morgan Hill and Gilroy. This would require the authority to build new high-security crossing gates to regulate vehicle traffic at these crossings.

HSRA staff identified alternative four as the preferred alignment based on a balance of the expected impacts, according to the EIR draft.

A significant concern among property and business owners is the HSRA’s need to take over private properties along the route before construction starts. Of the four alternatives, the authority’s preferred one would cause the least displacement of existing structures: 68 homes would be displaced, as would 66 commercial businesses, 40 agricultural properties and one public facility.

Charter School of Morgan Hill and Villa Mira Monte, an historical landmark, are in the proposed right-of-way of HSRA’s preferred alignment.

One drawback to alternative four, according to the EIR draft, is that it is the option that would create the most noise impact for residents and businesses within earshot.

From Gilroy, the local HSR route would continue southeast to Merced County by tunneling under the mountains along Pacheco Pass, according to HSRA staff. “With the release of this first environmental document in Northern California, we are continuing to show progress on every mile of the statewide system,” authority CEO Brian Kelly said. “We look forward to hearing from the communities along the route to ensure our project provides a clean, next-generation travel option while improving local quality of life.”

The authority’s preferred San Jose to Merced alignment will cost about $16.5 billion in 2018 dollars. Statewide, the cost to complete the 800-mile system has ballooned many times since voters approved a bond to fund a portion of HSR in 2008. When complete, the HSR will carry commuters from SF to LA in less than three hours.

Public Comment

The High Speed Rail Authority will host the following opportunities to hear from and comment directly to bullet train officials about the draft EIR for the San Jose to Merced section. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related stay-at-home orders, meetings will likely be conducted virtually:

• May 11 open house, City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose

• May 14 open house, Veterans Memorial Hall, 74 W. Sixth St., Gilroy

• May 18 open house, Community Center, 645 Seventh St., Los Banos

• May 27 public hearing, County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose

Members of the public can submit comment without attending the meetings:

• On the HSRA website at hsr.ca.gov

• Via email to [email protected] with the subject line “San Jose to Merced Draft EIR/EIS Comment”

• By mail to: Attn: San Jose to Merced: Draft EIR/EIS, California High Speed Rail Authority, 100 Paseo de San Antonio, Suite 300, San Jose, CA 95113

16 Comments

  1. They are still paying people on this dead horse project.

    When will you foolish “progressives” learn that you are getting played?

    It is beyond shocking how willfully ignorant you are, worse than Bush.

  2. since CalTrain is undergoing electrification – why not just extend the line – going south all the way down to Salinas, then Santa Barbara and then on into Greater L.A.? The route is already in place. wouldn’t be required to go over mountain passes twice (Grapevine/Pacheco Pass) . Granted the travel time would be a bit longer but the line would be going through much more populated areas thereby increasing ridership. it would cost a fraction of the amount of the current HSR plan and could be completed in a much shorter time. All Aboard?

    • Going down the coast would also be expensive, serve a lot fewer people and would be just as technically demanding, if not moreso, than the right of way chosen. The inland cities — Lancaster, Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, etc — are significantly larger than the Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo metro areas. Union Pacific owns the rail lines south of Diridon Station down to Ventura County, and they’ve been hostile to passenger rail, especially electric passenger rail, so you’d have to pay a significant amount of money to purchase that stretch of right of way. Using the Coast line would also involve going through multiple mountain ranges, and the existing right of way is only one track wide in a lot of places. Cuesta Pass between San Luis Obispo and Santa Margarita has numerous tunnels, horseshoe curves, etc that would need to either be reconstructed or bypassed with a tunnel a lot like the one that would be needed over Pacheco Pass. You’d also need to make a significant undertaking in reconstruction, much like you’d need to get over the Grapevine, to get through the Santa Susana Pass between Simi Valley and Los Angeles due to terrain conditions and how populated that area is already. Infrastructure in California is expensive because the state has technical demands for any sort of construction, regardless of how you build it.

  3. > Public Comment Begins on Silicon Valley Bullet Train Route

    Nice map.

    Conveniently shows ISIS or Al Qaida the many, many tunnels, “aerials”, and overpasses where they can employ 3,000 year-old technology based on Chinese fireworks to interrupt your half trillion dollar theme park ride.

    What a stupid idea.

  4. I have ridden the TGV trains in France. It cuts travel time in half as compared to driving. Accordingly, I cannot understand why so many people are against HSR. The pre-flight arrival times at airports are such that it would be faster and more convenient to go from SF to LA by HSR than by air, because it’s so much faster.
    The west coast as a whole is unaccustomed to rail travel, unlike the east coast where it is a given. So, getting the first line built with as little opposition as possible means routing it through empty areas. Then there are the California tree, bug, and lizard huggers, who would file a lawsuit in every jurisdiction where one of their favorite beasties was found.
    If any new airports are built along the west coast, they would be so far from the favorite destinations as to make them unattractive. So, if high speed travel for distances under 1,000 miles in the west is the goal, HSR is the clear answer.
    Hugh B’s proposal seems to be the best. Since the right of way already exists, EIRs would be quicker and simpler, and the opportunity for huggers to block the simple change in the speed of the trains would be diminished greatly.
    Beating the dead horse that the current route is makes little sense, except for the politicians and consultants making their livings keeping it alive. Building the HSR would provide much needed jobs in the aftermath of the economic shutdown of California presided over by Newsom.

    • > Building the HSR would provide much needed jobs in the aftermath of the economic shutdown of California presided over by Newsom.

      “Providing jobs” is a justification for a public works project ONLY when there are no other justifications.

      And if “providing jobs” is the only justification, then there is NO justification.

      Digging holes and filling them up provides jobs.

    • California is no France, Japan, or Taiwan for that matter. There are two main population centers, not many connected over relatively short space.

      Going through Bakersfield was a mistake. The HSR in Cal is not high speed rail. This project, which wont finish, is destroying farm land like crazy.

      This is a political boondoggle that doesn’t even pencil in. Much like the VTA lightrail fiasco.

      I suggest you buy a nice condo in Tokyo, they can be had for 125000 or so and live there a month or so a year, youll get all the hsr you can hope for, and that one works.

      • > Why the discrepancy in price?

        I’m sure there’s a perfectly innocent explanation.

        For starters, our high speed rail will be a CALIFORNIA high speed rail. I’m sure that’s worth something.

        Maybe the Democrats will know.

      • many more corrupt politicians and special interests feeding on this boondoggle than there are in France

    • This project may have used HSR as it’s cover to get started, but it was quickly discovered it is nothing but a money grab by politicians and their special interest handlers.

  5. How is the State going to pay for this pipe dream. The cost keeps going up. The only people making any money on this is the consultants. The bill is going to my great grandson.

    • > How is the State going to pay for this pipe dream.

      There are two answers to your question: The Republican Answer and the Democrat Answer.

      Republican Answer:

      “Raise taxes,
      Borrow money,
      Print money,
      Send the bill to our children and grandchildren”.

      Democrat Answer

      “It’s FREE! The government will pay for it.”

  6. A bullet train “to” Merced? Yeah right, who wants to quickly go “to” Merced? If anything, people will be taking the bullet train “out” of Merced.

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