The Loma Prietan - July/August 2009

High Speed Rail

What the #!?HSR is Going on Here, Anyway?

The HSR evaluated two routes into the Bay Area, eventually selecting the Pacheco Pass route, which bypasses Livermore. Illustration by Nina Khashchina.
The HSR evaluated two routes into the Bay Area, eventually selecting the Pacheco Pass route, which bypasses Livermore. Illustration by Nina Khashchina.

To help you keep it all straight, here are some of the players and an outline of the process we've been through and the process that we'll go through before High Speed Rail (HSR) in California will be, as is the buzzword-du-jour, 'shovel-ready.'

The Players

High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) — The California governmental agency in charge of getting this done. Peninsula Cities Coalition — A growing group (currently five) of cities banded together to address the issues raised by HSR.

The Process

Program Environmental Impact Report (Program EIR) — This document, certified in July 2008, covers bigpicture issues such as preventing sprawl in the central valley, the general route (over Pacheco pass, through Gilroy, and up the Caltrain line), stations (San Francisco, Millbrae, San Jose, and one between Millbrae and San Jose), etc. The current lawsuit challenges the validity of this document.

Proposition 1A — This proposition, approved by voters in November 2008, authorized $9.6 billion in bonds to continue work on HSR. The arguments for the proposition included references to the Program EIR and its proposed route.

Project Environmental Impact Report (Project EIR) —The Project EIR will propose details about how the system will be built (tunnel, trench, elevated, number of tracks, width of right of way, etc.). Since this is a huge project, it has been divided into segments, each of which will have a separate Project EIR. For each segment, an engineering consulting firm is preparing a Draft Project EIR. Two segments are in our Chapter: one from San Francisco to San Jose, and one from San Jose over Pacheco Pass. Writing an EIR is a multi-step process:

Scoping — A process in which an agency proposing a project like HSR lets the public comment before an EIR is written. The scoping process for HSR ended in April.

Draft Project EIRs —A document that will be written by the engineering firms, based on information from the scoping process and engineering studies. These are anticipated in early 2011.

Public Comment Period — This one is just what it reads. Final Project EIRs — A document based on the Draft Project EIR and the comments from the Public Comment Period. Like the Draft Project EIR, the Final Project EIR will be prepared by the engineering firms. The HSRA will then certify or reject the EIR.

And More...

Alternatives — Any EIR must consider alternative ways of doing projects, no matter how obvious the best alternative may seem. This is required by both federal and California environmental law, as well as by common sense and good engineering practice (all of which say that if you're going to spend $40 billion, you shouldn't just go with the first idea that comes to mind). An EIR always evaluates "no build" as an alternative.

Outreach — Although there is usually not a lot of interaction between an agency and the public while a Draft EIR is being written, HSRA is maintaining outreach offices during this time. See under To Learn More, on this page.

Routes — The Program EIR considered two major alternative routes into the Bay Area: Pacheco Pass and Altamont Pass. See the above map.