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High-speed rail meetings in San Jose to tackle alternate routes

(The following story by Stephen Baxter appeared on the San Jose Mercury News website on October 2, 2009.)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Alternate routes for California's high-speed rail project could have a big impact on several San Jose neighborhoods in coming years, and the state rail leaders are holding a meeting at the Gardner Community Center on Oct. 6 to discuss some options.

Leaders from the California High-Speed Rail Authority plan to address some questions from neighbors to be included in the upcoming environmental impact report, including potentially changing the route from the Caltrain corridor to Highway 87 as it approaches Diridon Station from the south.

The bullet train project is expected to zip passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 10 minutes, and it is billed as a more environmentally conscious alterative to expanding freeways and airports. It will be supported by the sale of nearly $10 billion in bonds.

Several neighborhood leaders floated the Highway 87 idea in the spring, and they said that aligning bullet trains along the freeway would spare the Gardner neighborhood and North Willow Glen from problems with noise, vibration and property acquisition.

"There are a number of alignment considerations that we're continuing to evaluate," said Julie Ortiz, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Residents of Willow Glen and the Greater Gardner area including David Dearborn, Jean Dresden, Michelle Harris and Harvey Darnell submitted pages of questions for the "scoping" document that will set the parameters of the draft environmental impact report.

Dresden and Dearborn — who has worked in technical fields for 30 years — drafted a plan called "Thread The Needle," which describes in detail how the rail line could trace Highway 87 through the Interstate 280 interchange. It would run underground in the Delmas Park area to the Diridon train station.

Rail leaders say perhaps a compatible option would be to replace the Valley Transportation Authority's light-rail line along Highway 87 with a high-speed line, although it is unclear if the VTA would allow it.

Michelle Harris, a 48-year-old Cisco engineer who lives on Fuller Avenue, said many people in the Gardner area want the route moved to Highway 87.

"In older neighborhoods, the Caltrain tracks go through quaint parts of town. Putting a 200 mph train through it is kind of like putting a freeway through it," Harris said.

Harris, the secretary of the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, also said that many neighbors support the rail project and voted for Proposition 1A in 2008. They want to be close to a train station that would take them to other cities, she said.

Rail leaders have said in public meetings that trains would travel about 60 mph if they negotiated the curves of the Caltrain line through the Gardner area, but they did not deny that noise and vibration would be issues unless soundwalls or tunnels were built.

Another issue is that Union Pacific Railroad controls the right-of-way of the Caltrain line, and Union Pacific has stated that the state rail authority should not assume it could use it. Union Pacific is in contact with the state rail authority, Ortiz said.

The Gardner neighborhood has endured decades of transportation projects, including the construction of Interstate 280, Highway 87 and the Caltrain line. Jets also fly overhead on their way to Mineta San Jose International Airport.

At the October rail meeting, rail leaders plan to show maps of potential alignments and answer questions. A report on alternative alignments is due by the end of 2009, and a draft of the environmental impact report is expected in 2011.

Ortiz said one of the top concerns on the Merced to San Jose segment was the route approaching Diridon Station from the south.

"Because some of those areas are residential, the issues about noise and vibration are big," Ortiz said.

Monday, October 5, 2009

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