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California High-Speed Rail: Promise and peril

Published in the June 7 – June 20, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By John Horner

John Horner

California’s High Speed Rail project has picked up the pace in our region dramatically since the 2016 decision to prioritize construction of the San Jose to Bakersfield line instead of the previously prioritized Burbank to Merced section. The state’s High Speed Rail website http://www.hsr.ca.gov/ has a wealth of official project information.

The long-term vision of California’s High Speed Rail system is to provide rapid, convenient, moderate cost and self-supporting rapid transit between the state’s major population centers and in so doing to get cars off the road and airplanes out of the sky. While that vision is compelling, the details can have significant consequences for the businesses, farms, homes, schools and other facilities in and/or near the actual tracks, support centers, parking lots and train stations.

Stops along the route will be relatively rare along the line, which means that many people can be expected to drive to and from the few train stations. In our area one stop is planned in Gilroy. Historically Gilroy has advocated for putting that stop at the southern end of their downtown roughly where the existing CalTrain station is. Recently that community has had active discussions about the viability and consequences of such a location given the need for up to 4,000 parking spaces and significant dislocation of existing residences and businesses required for construction of such a large transit project.

For Morgan Hill, San Martin and South San Jose the situation is different from Gilroy because there will be no train stops in any of those communities, but there will be a very tall and very wide set of tracks supporting trains blasting through the area at 200 mph or faster. Given these realities, the exact location of the train tracks (it will not be just one track) is very consequential both to those on or near the right-of-way and the community at large.

Recently the city of Morgan Hill has gone on the record requesting that the train line be built primarily using the existing U.S. 101 right-of-way through Morgan Hill. Running the tracks on an elevated viaduct down the middle of the 101 median would minimize the amount of residential, business, farm, school and parkland which otherwise would be consumed by other routes. The state’s high speed rail authority has resisted that suggestion with the argument that doing so might add a few minutes to the time it takes the train to blast through our area.

The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce supports the city’s position on this topic as we to believe that using an existing transportation corridor would be the least disruptive option for our community. We are also reaching out to other associations to our north and south in an effort to advocate for a complete and comprehensive plan maximizing the benefits and minimizing the dislocations of the final chosen route.

Of course we are open to hearing all points of view on as we seek to be well-informed eyes, ears and voices for greater Morgan Hill. Feel free to send us an email (info@morganhill.org) or stop by the office to chat more about this and/or other topics of interest.

John Horner is the CEO/president of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (408) 779-9444.