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Rail authority seeking grant money for Peninsula segment
August 04, 2010, 02:54 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is preparing four separate federal grant applications to help jump-start construction on parts of the project, including the San Francisco to San Jose segment of the line.

The authority has until Aug. 6 to prepare the applications, a day after its next scheduled board meeting when it will decide which alternative to pursue on the Peninsula, one with 26 miles of trenches or tunnels and one with more aerial options.

The Peninsula Rail Program’s Bob Doty is scheduled to present the two alternatives to the board Thursday, although the documents will not be made public until Thursday morning. The Peninsula Rail Program is the local arm of the High-Speed Rail Authority that also answers to Caltrain.

Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock will attend the board meeting and is under the impression the authority has opted to build an aerial structure through her city.

"We do not want an aerial structure dividing our community,” Baylock said. "It is premature at this point to eliminate the trenched option until a complete environmental study is conducted. To dismiss the option is not following the law.”

The city just participated in the Peninsula Rail Program’s Context Sensitive Solutions, in which an overwhelming number of Burlingame residents said they preferred a trench or tunnel over an elevated structure. CSS was intended to allow for greater community input on the project.

"We just went through months of this process and within weeks they are dismissing our input,” Baylock said.

Baylock, Belmont Mayor Christine Wozniak and other Peninsula mayors who formed the Peninsula Cities Consortium received a letter from the Bay Area Council last week critical of their efforts.

"In the case of high-speed rail, a small handful of individuals in a small handful of neighborhoods in a small handful of communities raise a seemingly endless series of complaints and objections and threaten to halt the construction of a project of generational significance, and immediate economic survival, for this state and its residents,” council President Jim Wunderman said in the letter.

Wunderman said the group had "obstructionist policies” that put the project in "grave danger.” The Bay Area Council is a business-sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the nine-county Bay Area.

But Baylock said her job is simply to represent the views of Burlingame’s residents.

"Our position is to continue looking at the underground option,” Baylock said.

The authority’s new chief executive officer, Roelof van Ark, said at a committee meeting last week that the San Francisco to San Jose segment of the line has been given cost estimates "only” as an elevated or aerial structure.

The authority is seeking between $700 million and $1 billion for electrification of the Caltrain line and the construction of a new transit station in Millbrae in its grant application due Aug. 6.

Authority Boardmember Quentin Kopp made it clear yesterday, however, that the board has yet to decide on which option to pursue on the Peninsula and that cost estimates would not be solid for whatever option the board pursues until the fall.

"It won’t be completely tunneled and it won’t be completely aerial,” Kopp said. "We are still dealing with two sets of alternatives. We have to consider what is feasible.”

The authority will also seek separate grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation for track and signaling work on the Merced to Fresno section; track and signaling work in the Bakersfield to Fresno section; and track and other infrastructure on the Los Angeles to Anaheim section.

The rail authority is planning a route with electrified bullet trains traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco and has been criticized for speedily getting the project shovel-ready to secure more federal funding. The project was awarded $2.5 billion in federal funding in May and state voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond in a November 2008 election to build the project. The estimated cost is expected to be more than $40 billion, although, critics say that number could double.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority meets 9 a.m., Thursday, Milton Marks Conference Center, 455 Golden Gate Ave. San Francisco.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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