Next stop: Gilroy?

The map shows the preferred alignment and possible alignment

Gilroy
– Henry Coe State Park is safe from the bullet train, and Los
Banos is all but assured of not getting a station, but South County
is still in the running to be the high-speed transit link between
the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
On Wednesday, the board of the California High-Speed Rail
Authority is expected to adopt final recommendations for preferred
routes throughout the system, including options that could create a
station in either Gilroy or Morgan Hill.
Gilroy – Henry Coe State Park is safe from the bullet train, and Los Banos is all but assured of not getting a station, but South County is still in the running to be the high-speed transit link between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

On Wednesday, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is expected to adopt final recommendations for preferred routes throughout the system, including options that could create a station in either Gilroy or Morgan Hill.

Deputy Director of the CHSRA Dan Leavitt said Friday that Authority staff needs to conduct more research before finalizing a route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Rather than recommending a preferred route, staff has suggested an entire corridor, spanning from Altamont Pass in the north to Pacheco Pass in the South.

Los Banos’ likely exclusion is due to a lack of ridership and comes in the face of protest from that city’s officials. Leavitt said that eliminating the Los Banos station doesn’t make it any more unlikely that the train would come through South County.

“At this stage, all proposed stations are just options,” he said. “Altamont and Pacheco Pass are two existing passes through the mountains, and Gilroy and Morgan Hill will be explored as part of the Pacheco option.”

Gilroy city staff sent the Authority a recommendation favoring the Pacheco Pass alternative and counseling against a route through Coe Park.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage said Friday that he’s pleased that Coe Park has been eliminated from consideration. He thinks that the ridership concerns that hurt Los Banos shouldn’t prevent Pacheco Pass from linking the Central Valley to the Bay Area.

“Right now, if you look at it, ridership is way down, but it will eventually pick back up and you have to look to the future,” Gage said. “Transportation is a long-term thing. By 2040, California’s population is supposed to double and you have to be able to move those people.”

Leavitt called Wednesday’s decision an “important hurdle” for completing the environmental impact review process, but stressed that the bullet train is a long way from reality.

“We’re working under very severe budget constraints,” he said. “There isn’t funding to build the system yet, and even if we had the funding, we can’t build anything without environmental clearance.”

The electric-powered bullet trains would get riders from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours – or from Gilroy to Los Angeles in one hour and 45 minutes – reaching speeds of 220 miles an hours in rural areas and 125 in cities. Later phases would extend lines to Sacramento and San Diego.

The scope of the project makes the environmental process especially protracted. The entire project must first be cleared by the State Department of Fish and Game and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, then every segment of the project must be vetted in greater detail.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recently proposed budget included about $3.5 million to keep the project on track for the next year, and the November 2006 ballot will include a nearly-$10 billion bond proposal, with $9 billion earmarked for the bullet train and $950 million apportioned for existing urban railways.

Joe Thompson, a Gilroy transportation attorney, said Friday that the bullet train would be nothing but a “Soviet-style horizontal elevator.”

“It’s extremely taxpayer-dependent,” Thompson said. “Whether you’re in the private or public sector, if you don’t have the income to support your expenses, you’re headed for bankruptcy.”

The system would cost about $30 billion to establish, most of which would be publicly funded.

Gage, who is against the $4 billion BART to San Jose project, said that fiscal responsibility at the state level will free up money for the bullet trains.

“For the short-term, borrowing is OK,” Gage said, “but we should see less and less borrowing until we can live within our means. And that includes a bullet train.”

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