San Jose leaders, residents speak out over high-speed rail

Local leaders and community members spoke about their concerns and praised the statewide high-speed rail project, which is expected to connect the Bay Area with the Central Valley, during a meeting in San Jose Thursday.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors met at the County Government Center in San Jose, where it heard an update on segments of the project and the 2016 draft business plan due to the state Legislature on May 1.

The first leg of the high-speed rail will stretch from the Diridon station in San Jose to north of Bakersfield starting in 2025, with plans to extend the system north to San Francisco at the Transbay Transit Center and south to Los Angeles and Anaheim.

A second phase of the project will extend the tracks to Sacramento and San Diego.

In opening remarks at the meeting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city’s Diridon Station presented a “unique partnership” for an “intermodal station” that can rival other cities statewide, and to keep the community in mind while pursuing the project.

The downtown station connects to other public transportation services including Caltrain and Amtrak. Once BART and high-speed rail reaches the site, about 600 trains a day are expected to run through the transit center, Liccardo said.

Authority CEO Jeff Morales summarized remarks from the public who were given until Monday to comment on the business plan, which is required by the state Legislature on a biennial basis.

Many of the comments surrounded geographical issues on cities that were either included or not part of the project. There were also statements surrounding planning, cost estimates and ridership projection, Morales said.

The board will vote on the business plan at a meeting next Thursday in Sacramento to allow the public time to comment on the recommended staff changes.

San Jose is preparing for the anticipated arrival of high-speed rail and BART to the Diridon station, which will make a “transformational impact” on transportation in San Jose, deputy city manager Kim Walesh said.

There are plans to develop the Diridon station area in collaboration with Caltrain and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. About 240 acres at the site will be used to develop offices, retail spaces, entertainment hubs and homes, Walesh said:

“Beyond the transportation function we want the surrounding district to be an attractive destination in (and) of itself.”

The city is working on bringing private developers to the station area and asked the board to dedicate a team focused on addressing parking needs as the area transitions from a suburban to urban environment, Walesh said.

About 20 miles of high-speed rail will be within San Jose city limits and once the first leg is completed, the Diridon station will have more intermodal connections than the Transbay Transit Center, said Ben Tripousis, Northern California regional director for the project.

The route will continue south to Gilroy and make its way to Merced along state Highway 152, Tripousis said.

Elected officials and community members from the Bay Area and Central Valley gave their two cents to the board on the project.

The Transbay Transit Center will be completed in two years and work is underway to prepare for the arrival of high-speed rail, said Ed Reiskin, transportation director at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Caltrain general manager Jim Hartnett said the rail service is working on electrifying its tracks that will also serve high-speed rail, which will span three counties.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission executive director Steve Hemminger said:

“We used to build things in California and the high-speed rail program has always been about more than a transportation project. It’s a test of whether we can build big things again.”

Hemminger suggested the board look into building a facility that will bridge people one block from the Transbay Transit Center to Embarcadero BART station in San Francisco.

Some San Jose residents emphasized their concerns that the high-speed rail route will cross into their communities, including the Willow Glen and Greater Gardner neighborhoods already impacted by freight trains, freeways and planes.

Others also called for more documentation on what’s being done to address environmental justice.

Board chairman Dan Richard acknowledged the numerous land use issues and the importance of interagency partnerships surrounding the project:

“This is about transforming the future direction of California that is far more sustainable.”