Monday, May 31, 2010

'Steam' Building Over California High Speed Rail Route

No doubt, California’s high speed rail project is a hot topic. There’s a lot to love and hate with this project. Earlier this year, I wrote an opinion article in The Bakersfield Californian about Bakersfield competing for a test track and heavy maintenance facility. (“High-speed rail prize awaits the valley community that has its act together,” by John Hardisty)

In the Sunday, May 30, edition, Californian reporter Steve Mayer wrote about the controversy swirling around proposed high speed rail routes. In his story, the routes through Bakersfield were delineated with “blue” and “red” lines, but both basically follow an existing railroad alignment.

The plan is for the route to enter Bakersfield from the northwest, stop at a downtown terminal and exit to the east on the way to the Antelope Valley and beyond to Southern California.

Because of the speed, both routes deviate a bit – in a sweeping curve – from the existing railroad alignment. Likely historic homes and buildings are in its path, causing controversy in the city. But Bakersfield is not alone in raising concerns about the path high speed rail will take. Farmers up and down the San Joaquin Valley are expressing concerns. Battles have broken out in the Bay Area and Southern California.

Bringing a high speed rail line through Bakersfield will be disruptive, as well as beneficial. Issues of safety and noise will need to be addressed for either the blue or red lines. Rather than deciding that the exact alignment will be where the preliminary study lines have been drawn, the design engineers and environmental reviewers should be refining a route that would least impact the community.

Wherever possible, they need to avoid schools, hospitals, homes, businesses and churches.

In the end, perhaps the alignment can follow some of the blue and some of the red route noted in The Bakersfield Californian’s story. As they get down to the details of design, you can bet they won’t follow any proposed route 100 percent.

Although this project has been in the works for more than a decade, it has been more "theory" than "fact." Voters approving a nearly $10 billion bond measure in 2008 and then the Obama administration recently pitching in another $2.6 billion (thereabouts) has moved the project into the "possible" category. That means people are now bickering over the details, like where the tracks will go. If you think getting a freeway alignment adopted is tough, you ain't seen nothing yet. This could be a bigger battle.

John Hardisty (Jack) retired as the Bakersfield city development services director in 2004. He is now a court mediator and planning consultant. His comments appear on The Bakersfield Californian Website and on his Planning Beat blog.

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