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San Jose residents get first look at high-speed rail route alternatives

(The following story by Stephen Baxter appeared on the San Jose Mercury News website on October 7, 2009.)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — California high-speed rail authority leaders unveiled maps of alternative routes to Diridon station at a packed meeting at San Jose's Gardner Community Center on Tuesday night, as officials gathering public comments as the project rolls forward.

Officials Tuesday showed four routes that are alternatives to the initial proposal of running the train along the existing Caltrain line from Highway 87 to Interstate 280. None of the four alternatives would take the train along that line. Many residents along the Caltrain line in the Gardner and North Willow Glen neighborhoods have said they do not want the noise, vibration and potential property acquisitions that the high-speed line would bring.

The final route is far from being selected, and the next step is to gather feedback for a draft environmental impact report due in 2010. The rail authority plans to adopt an environmental report in 2012.

"We believe that by getting your input now ... we'll come out with the right answer," said Gary Kennerly, the rail authority's regional manager for the San Jose to Merced segment.

However, if the line were to run up Highway 87 instead, it would skip Gardner and likely create new problems for the Delmas Park neighborhood near Diridon station. Tracks in Delmas Park would be built underground or on aerial stands, rail leaders said.

Dave Mansen, the regional project manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said that boring machines
could "probably" dig tunnels under the Delmas Park neighborhood without demolishing the homes above, but it would depend on several factors including the area's soil and geology.

Soil testing and engineering studies have not yet been done, Mansen said.

There were more than 150 people at the meeting, including San Jose Councilmen Pierluigi Oliverio and Sam Liccardo.

Helen Chapman, president of Shasta Hanchett Neighborhood Association, told officials at the meeting that she worries that parking and congestion would swell in her neighborhood if Diridon station is expanded — especially if a potential ballpark is built next to it.

"We need a comprehenseive parking managment plan for all the projects," Chapman said.

Several other neighbors said they wanted the route built underground as much as possible to muffle the sound. By 2035, rail leaders expect 10 trains to run every 3 minutes from about 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

"All the underground you can do, we would appreciate it," said resident Mike Nolan.

The alternative routes include several ideas submitted by the San Jose transportation department, including an aerial or underground line that would thread the Highway 87 and Interstate 280 interchange and end at a new train station between HP Pavilion and the current Diridon station.

The new station could be built above ground or underground, but an underground station would probably be constructed under the proposed BART station — where buses now stop in the Diridon parking lot. An underground high-speed rail station there would be about 10 stories deep, and rail officials said they have not begun testing the ground for its feasibility.

Leaders of the 800-mile, $45 billion bullet-train project expect to run trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, and its construction will be supported by bonds that state voters approved in 2008 with Proposition 1A.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

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