Bullet train CEO makes second stop in Gilroy

Roelof van Ark shown here during a visit to Gilroy in December

When the California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO visited Gilroy
in December, he told city officials what to expect from the state’s
$45-billion, 800-mile project. On Tuesday, it was Van Ark’s turn to
listen. Members of a Gilroy-Morgan Hill task force met with CEO
Roelof van Ark at Gilroy City Hall for a little more than two hours
Tuesday morning as the two sides continued to discuss the best ways
to bring a bullet train through the city.
When the California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO visited Gilroy in December, he told city officials what to expect from the state’s $45-billion, 800-mile project.

On Tuesday, it was Roelof van Ark’s turn to listen.

Members of a Gilroy-Morgan Hill task force met with the CEO at Gilroy City Hall for a little more than two hours Tuesday morning as the two sides continued to discuss the best ways to bring a bullet train through the city.

“We talked a lot about Gilroy,” Gilroy City Councilman Perry Woodward said.

The two sides discussed parking and funding issues, but Gilroy City Administrator Thomas Haglund said the point of the meeting was to build trust through face-to-face discussions.

“These meetings aren’t to negotiate details,” Haglund said. “They are to establish a relationship with the rail authority and to do our best to represent the community.”

Haglund said one of the most important items from the meeting was the reiteration that the project’s draft environmental impact report would be released in either August or September of this year.

“It’s important for us to see where they are on track, so I know how to appropriately use the city’s resources,” Haglund said.

Van Ark said Tuesday’s meeting was “very constructive.”

It was Van Ark’s second meeting with the task force, which is comprised of Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro, Woodward, Haglund and Morgan Hill representatives – Mayor Steve Tate and City Manager Ed Tewes.

Van Ark first visited with local leaders in December, two months after the Gilroy City Council voted 4-3 to send a vote of no confidence to the CHSRA. The Council also delivered a 23-point resolution, which stated information from high-speed rail officials had been “frustratingly limited and inadequate.”

Earlier this month, Council members spoke poorly of the CHSRA’s at-grade design for a proposed rail station in Gilroy.

Tuesday’s meeting was an example of how things have changed, Pinheiro and Woodward said.

“Like night and day,” Pinheiro said.

Regarding the at-grade design – which would call for the construction of traffic overpasses – Woodward said, “I think that’s over.”

Woodward said he and Pinheiro did make one thing clear to Van Ark: If the train is going to roll through Downtown Gilroy, the tracks will have to be laid in a trench design. If the CHSRA wants to build an at-grade or aerial design, they need to build the station east of downtown, Woodward said.

Pinheiro said they did not discuss whether the city would have to pay for trenching costs.

“We didn’t go to that level,” he said.

Van Ark said the CHSRA wouldn’t shy away from discussion about all available options.

“We wanted to make it known that we will consider all alternatives that are feasible,” Van Ark said.

The CHSRA and Gilroy city staff were scheduled to host a community outreach meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight from at the Gilroy High School Student Center.

A similar outreach meeting will take place at the same time Thursday in Morgan Hill.

Haglund said the CHSRA also has committed to another community meeting to be held in San Martin, allowing residents in unincorporated Santa Clara County to offer their opinions.

“These people have something to say about the project,” Haglund said.

Expected to begin full operation in 2020, the project will have routes from Sacramento to San Diego with connections to the Bay Area, and is slated to have a major stop in Gilroy.

Though Tuesday’s topics were “very, very generic,” Tate said the fact Van Ark continues to meet with officials will prove invaluable.

“We’ve got a wide-open communication with the powers that be at high-speed rail,” Tate said. “We’re making sure we make the right decision for South County.”

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