Peninsula cities joining forces to influence high-speed rail plan 

A growing group of Peninsula cities are joining together in an effort to gain greater influence over plans for the San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the statewide bullet train system.

Staff and elected officials from at least seven cities met last week in the latest effort to discuss their shared concerns surrounding the high-speed rail project.

Supporters of the group hope to create a more unified voice for San Mateo County cities about their concerns, despite their differing views on the project and how it should be built.

For example, while cities like South San Francisco have supported an aerial alignment, other cities like San Mateo and Burlingame want it to be underground, said Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel.

Officials also hope a coalition will help secure federal dollars for the Peninsula portion, which could fund the more expensive trenching or tunneling work to run the train underground.

“We’re politically divided,” Nagel said. “As long as our cities are bickering among themselves, as [Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo] have told us, the federal government has been quite clear in saying, ‘We’re going to wait until you folks figure out what you want.’”

The ad hoc group, known as the San Mateo County Rail Corridor Partnership, includes Burlingame, Millbrae, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Redwood City, though Belmont and Brisbane also sent representatives to the most recent monthly meeting last week.

San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson said the cities want to provide an informal forum for discussion. But others are skeptical.

The separate Peninsula Cities Consortium — made up of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame — formed in 2009 as a local forum on high-speed rail concerns.

Atherton City Councilman Jerry Carlson, vice chairman of the consortium, said the new group seems to make assumptions about the project’s financial viability and its route that not all cities agree with.

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ here,” Carlson said.

Patterson said cities can be involved in discussions and still oppose the Peninsula route. “We’re just saying that’s the current selected route and we should be prepared and participating in the planning of that alignment.”

Rail officials announced this month that the draft environmental report for the Peninsula won’t be out until October 2012, a delay of almost two years that will give cities more time to communicate their concerns, said high-speed authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall.

“Our relationships with the cities have not changed depending on if they have partnered up,” Wall said.

Banding together

As part of the effort to share their joint concerns, San Mateo, Redwood City, Burlingame and Millbrae sent a letter last month making requests to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, including:

  1. Study running the train through open trenches, covered trenches and bored tunnels
  2. Consider phasing the project so two tracks are built initially with room to expand to four tracks
  3. Consider building it with two tracks instead of four tracks
  4. Analyze the economic impacts of the project on downtown areas on the Peninsula

 Source: City of San Mateo

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