Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Next Steps in Addressing High Speed Rail in San Mateo

Last night, the San Mateo City Council met to discuss the next steps in part of their long-term planning process to address High Speed Rail in San Mateo.

You can read an article in today's Daily Journal about last night's meeting. However, a summary of yesterday's meeting include:

  • The City of San Mateo will begin a public outreach process designed to give all citizens in our City a chance to weigh in on this very important issue. All members of the community are invited to the first meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 17. Time and location TBD.
  • City Staff will continue working on developing "construction-ready" projects to take advantage of the $2.25 billion in funding recently awarded the State of California to work on high speed rail projects. Independent of what you think of the long-term impacts of high speed rail, the fact is that this money has been allocated, and if San Mateo does not aggressively pursue this money, other municipalities will scoop it up. This money could be used to help create grade separations at our intersections as well as other improvements.
  • As your City Councilmember, I will begin actively lobbying the California High Speed Rail Authority to make them aware of what the City of San Mateo stands to lose if high speed rail is not implemented properly. This means listening to our neighbors, and conforming to the City's general plan, rail corridor plan, and sustainability plan.
I urge all interested citizens to attend the workshop on March 17, and to contact me if they have any questions or concerns. Together we can make sure that high speed rail does not compromise the wonderful character and qualities of our community.


City looks for high-speed rail benefits
March 02, 2010, 02:56 AM By Bill Silverfarb

The recent release of $2.25 billion in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail could be a benefit to the city of San Mateo, prompting Councilman David Lim to suggest last night the city court the board that oversees the money now.

“San Mateo is one of hundreds of voices to be heard,” Lim said. “The $2.25 billion is already there. Let’s all be a little selfish and find ways to get San Mateo some of that money. We are in a position to work collaboratively with HSR to achieve our goals.”

And while many cities along the Peninsula are trying to find ways to relate their preferences for high-speed rail, the city of San Mateo has quietly anticipated the impact of such a project for years and has already strongly expressed its interest in an underground section in the city’s historic downtown.

The council favors high-speed rail and the benefits it will add to the city, including grade separations at all rail crossings and the eventual electrification of Caltrain, which will make for quieter, more environmentally-friendly trains.

“We didn’t just open the can today,” said Mayor John Lee. “We’ve been working on it a long time.”

The San Mateo City Council voted last night to conduct several workshops in the coming months to give residents a greater voice in the high-speed rail discussion as it waits for a key document from the California High Speed Rail Authority on its alternatives analysis for the stretch of track between Gilroy and San Francisco, a document that has been delayed for months. The alternatives analysis is meant to give cities along the Caltrain corridor a better idea of what possibilities exist regarding the track’s alignment, including below grade, bored tunnels, cut and cover trenches or elevated berms such as the ones in San Carlos.

The city started studying rail issues in downtown going back to 1994. It also commissioned a study of the rail alignment between the Hillsdale and Hayward Park rail stations in 2001 and adopted its Rail Corridor Plan in recent years that puts an emphasis on building transit-oriented development along the corridor.

The corridor plan and resulting Downtown Plan specifically indicates the city’s preference for undergrounding any future rail projects in the downtown and to raise the elevation of the tracks at the Hillsdale Caltrain Station and the stretch near State Route 92.

“The city has been very proactive with this issue,” said Public Works Director Larry Patterson. “Many impacts have already been considered and a below-grade alignment for downtown is preferred.”

Patterson sits on the Technical Working Group made up of city staff from many cities that is conducted by the Peninsula Rail Program, an arm of the rail authority. Councilman Brandt Grotte represents the city on the Policymaker Working Group.

“HSR knows what San Mateo’s position is,” Patterson said.

Last week, Authority Board President Curt Pringle and many other officials took a tour of the tracks between Belmont and South San Francisco.

It was Pringle’s first look at the Peninsula corridor, a fact that shocked Councilman David Lim.

Lim suggested the council take a more direct approach with the California High Speed Rail Authority Board itself to show what the potential impacts of the project will have on the city. The board is made up of nine members, four from Northern and Southern California each and one from the Central Valley. The board will eventually decide the fate of how trains will pass through each city in the proposed $45 billion project.

The federal government released $2.25 billion in stimulus money to the state recently for construction-ready projects and Lim wants the city to start reaching for that money now, before municipalities in Southern California do.

Lim also said lawsuits are not the answer in battling the project.

Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto have already sued the authority to try to divert trains over the Dumbarton Bridge rather than the already-approved Pacheco Pass. Other cities have also threatened lawsuits or have earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to try to influence the board.

“Louder is not necessarily better,” Lim said about the recent actions of neighboring cities. “We are in a fight with Southern California for this money. We need to introduce the board to San Mateo and show what is special and unique about the city. Otherwise, we will likely be streamrolled.”

The authority is planning a route with electrified bullet trains traveling up to from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It received a significant boost when voters approved a $9.95 billion bond in November 2008. The announcement of $2.25 billion in federal stimulus money is speeding up the planning process with environmental review completed by September 2011.

The alternatives analysis was intended to be released in February but got pushed back until March. That delay will now reach into April. Once the document is released, cities will have 45 days to comment on it.

Councilman Jack Matthews is concerned the 45 days will not be enough time to respond to the document.

Matthews questioned whether the process is driven by a timetable for federal funding.

“This is a short time frame to make decisions on a project that will have a significant impact on the community,” Matthews said.

Matthews is hoping the rail authority will extend the response time for cities.

“We’ve already looked at this as a community but is the community comfortable with what we’ve come up with,” Matthews said regarding the city’s rail corridor plan.

Councilman Robert Ross wants greater detail on what land acquisitions would be required to move the project through the city and what potential property tax losses the city might face.

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