High-speed rail showdown

It’s the East Bay versus the South Bay in the race to claim the route of California’s proposed high-speed rail that will zip riders between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just more than 2½ hours.

The $40 billion project seeks to link California with more than 700 miles of track to carry trains traveling faster than 200 miles an hour. The routing of the line, which is expected to be decided Wednesday by the California High Speed Rail Authority, has two current proposals for laying rail: one through Altamont Pass in the East Bay and a second through the Pacheco Pass south of Gilroy.

The route decision between the Bay Area and Central Valley will have immense impact on transportation, funding, and the environment locallyand statewide.

Pacheco Pass provides a more direct route into the Bay Area for Southern California and Central Valley residents and is the recommendation of the state authority, as well as the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The Pacheco crossing, which will connect to San Francisco through San Jose and the Peninsula, is favored because it follows existing Caltrain tracks and avoids cutting through wetland habitats around the Bay.

The Altamont crossing would better serve those who live north of Modesto, including residents moving between the Bay Area and Sacramento. That route would likely terminate in Union City and require a bridge across the Bay through the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, located mostly along the shoreline north and south of the Dumbarton Bridge.

Because a Pacheco Pass route bypasses Central Valley areas between the Bay Area, Modesto and Sacramento, the authority is recommending that a parallel project — possibly a partnership with regional transportation such as BART — be looked into as a solution.

“Whatever route gets picked, we have to start the process as a state. Every day that we dither, right of ways get built on, construction costs escalate and the overall cost of the project climbs higher,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

Those considerations may help the $10 billion bond pass, as it has been postponed repeatedly since its inception in the late 1990s. The money is just one-third of the initial $30 billion needed to build the main line between Northern and Southern California.

By authority estimates, the rail could save up to 22 million barrels of oil annually, and uses one-third the energy per mile as air travel and one-fifth that of automobile travel.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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