Council Can’t Decide on Where the Tracks Should Go

High Speed Rail in Anaheim

After 90 minutes of contentious debate, Gilroy City Council postponed a decision on where to locate the incoming high-speed rail line.
The council reached a unanimous decision Monday night, following a series of questions for High-Speed Rail Northern California Director Ben Tripousis, including an inquiry concerning the possibility of a rail line that runs parallel with Highway 101 similar to what was agreed upon in Morgan Hill.
For some members of the city council and community members, the options are bad or worse.
While some members of the public expressed support for high-speed rail, citing the added financial benefit and the need to relieve congestion on the highway, many of them, along with members of the City Council did not hide their antipathy towards the high-speed rail line. Mayor Pro Tempore Dion Bracco characterized the High-Speed Rail Authority’s presentations of options to Gilroy as a charade offering the illusion of choice when a decision has likely already been made.
“It sounds like we have a choice between bad, really bad and really really bad,” said Bracco. “I don’t believe we should make the decision to accept a bad design because we think that’s our only choice. Honestly, I don’t think we really have a choice and that the High-Speed Rail Authority already made its choice. I’m not going to decide on any of the three options because I don’t think any of them are any good.”
While Mayor Roland Velasco echoed Bracco’s skepticism over the very existence of high-speed rail, he remained committed to making a decision, one way or another.
“We are forced to make a decision and whatever it is, we need to pick something and I hope we’ve completely exhausted all the alternatives to try to find the best solution for Gilroy,” Velasco said.
Advantages and disadvantages of the possible alternatives for the high-speed rail line were offered by representatives from the High-Speed Rail Commission and consultants from Placeworks and BAE Urban Economics, firms specialized in evaluating economic, health and environmental impacts on communities.
The three possible routes include an above-ground viaduct through downtown, an embankment route running through town, or a rail line running through the east side of Gilroy. It was determined that more time was needed to make the best decision for Gilroy and its long-term future.
“I’m more and more convinced that we need a station downtown, but I’m not sure that we need to run a high-speed rail through the downtown,” Velasco said. “That’s why I keep referring to the Y-alignment. If there’s another way to bring high-speed rail into Gilroy, within the city limits without disturbing our urban growth boundary, then I’m certainly open to that.”
The Y-alignment would include a fast track around the city and one for trains that stop in Gilroy running through the city center.
Citing the unwillingness of Union Pacific to electrify the downtown rail lines and the lack of existing rail infrastructure found in Europe, Tripousis said the Y-alignment was impractical.
“In either case, you would need to construct an exit for those trains out of downtown and you’d have twice the infrastructure with twice the impact and twice the costs,” Tripousis said.
In the case of either option for the rail lines, Gilroyans should expect at approximately three years of construction.
“It wouldn’t be all at one location, at one time, but the idea is to move on as quick as possible,” Tripousis said. “With each location and each community, we need to establish a construction mitigation impact plan and that plan lays out a schedule of construction, the hours, the kinds of equipment. We are using the cleanest possible equipment and if the viaduct option is pursued, the pieces are constructed off site. All of that is worked out with the local community.”
The process of property acquisition and appraisal is pending until the conclusion of an environmental impact study, which was slated to be completed in August, but is now expected to be delayed.
“Our hope is to have it completed by the end of the year, but I hope to have a more accurate schedule within the next couple of weeks,” Tripousis said.
While members of the city council pressed Tripousis on the viability of the options already planned, little wiggle room was promised.
“We can have technical discussions with staff and clarifying conversations with the city council about why we’re doing what we are and how we can modify the plans we have, but I can’t say what those changes would be,” Tripousis said. “What you are looking at with the options we are reviewing are decades worth of analysis on alternatives to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles.”
Council member Paul V. Kloecker peppered Tripousis about who would be expected to pay for improvements to the city necessitated by high-speed rail. Including costs needed to pay for roads and sidewalks impacted by the construction.
“Everything associated with the development of high-speed rail, here or in any community, is borne by the authority,” Tripousis said.
Not everyone present was against high-speed rail. Connie Rogers, representing Gilroy Growing Smarter, spoke for the project, citing the need to protect farmland on the east side of town and the economic opportunities high-speed rail could bring to downtown Gilroy.
“We voted, nearly, unanimously to support the downtown viaduct based on the information we received from the May 15 report,” Rogers said. “We felt it was important to take the long-term view, knowing that the construction period would be difficult. The long-term benefit would increase the need for office space, retail businesses, and housing within walking distance of the station.”