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Calif. high speed rail narrows route options

(The California High Speed Rail Authority issued the following news release on May 27.)

IRVINE, Calif. -- Planners of California's high-speed train system Tuesday agreed to drop consideration of several controversial alignments along the coastline as it prepares to select a route for connecting San Diego and Orange Counties to the state's proposed high-speed train system through Union Station in Los Angeles.

At a meeting in Irvine City Hall, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHRA) Board voted unanimously to drop alignments matching existing Amtrak Coastliner tracks along the Del Mar Bluffs in San Diego County and in Orange County along the beach at San Clemente and through the historic district in San Juan Capistrano.

"This was an important decision because it sets the ground rules for our final selection of the passenger rail path linking San Diego to the high-speed train network," said Rod Diridon, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. "This lets everyone focus on practical design options and lets folks along the coast know that we will not intrude on their beaches."

A stream of public officials took the podium to praise the staff recommendation approved by the board. They were virtually unanimous in their support for alignments farther inland.

"I am really happy today to be able to support the staff recommendation for Del Mar and Encinitas," said Orange County Supervisor Pam Slater. She commended the staff for paying attention to local input.

San Clemente Mayor Stephanie Dorey called the board's decision "a win for the environment, a win for transportation and a win for our communities." She said the CHRA staff had been "directly responsive to the major policy concerns we have."

Several speakers urged the board to also drop an option that would place the tracks near the beach in Dana Point. But the board decided to delay that decision until more information is available.

CHRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed noted the beach alignments have been contentious for decades. "It has been refreshing to work with a group of people who had an interest in not just pushing against something but working toward a solution," he said. "This turned out to be one of the best examples of how the environmental process can work to better our transportation as well as our communities."

Now, the beach alignments will not be part of the massive environmental impact report CHRA is preparing for the largest proposed public works project in the nation, a plan to create a 700-mile network of high-speed trains connecting California's major cities with 200-mph service. That EIR is expected to be released in late August.

A $9.95 billion bond issue currently is scheduled for the November 2004 statewide ballot to finance the first phase of construction of the high-speed train system.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

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