Thursday, April 15, 2010

California delaying high-speed rail EIS

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California High-Speed Rail Authority representatives said the project's environmental impact report will be delayed until next year to help the agency deal with concerns from cities along the bullet train's proposed path, the Orange County Register reports.

Buena Park is one of those cities, with dozens of condominiums, several businesses, and even the city's Metrolink station smack in the high-speed rail's proposed right-of-way, depending on which plan is consulted.

David M. Thomson, an engineer with the consulting firm STV, said the rail authority has pushed back publication of its draft environmental impact report to January to allow some of those issues to be sorted out. The document originally was scheduled to be finished in May. He made the announcement during this week's Buena Park City Council meeting.

State officials said pushing back the environmental studies will not affect more than $2 billion in federal stimulus funds that have been given to the project.

The authority is proposing to build an 800-mile-long rail line that would transport passengers from Anaheim to San Francisco in about three hours. The overall cost is estimated at $42.6 billion and would be funded with private and public money, including federal and state funds and bonds.

At the meeting, Buena Park city officials expressed their support for a newly-revived proposal to run a new bullet train along existing rails, which they hope will soften the project's blow locally. They also want sound walls and a new Metrolink station considered as mitigation measures if a new high-speed rail service does run through Buena Park on its way from Fullerton to Los Angeles. They officials made the request with California High-Speed Rail representatives in the audience.

The relationship between the city and the authority hasn't always been easy. Within the last several months, the council was told Buena Park would lose some condominiums to the high-speed rail, later learning that the city's brand-new Metrolink station would have to be sacrificed to save the condos.

Then earlier this month, the authority agreed to revive a proposal to share existing tracks, which would cut down on the need for right-of-way purchases, potentially saving hundreds of homes if a high-speed rail line is built between Anaheim and Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

Buena Park Public Works Director Jim Biery likes that idea.

"It has less rails, so it has less impact," Biery said. "That's something to get excited about."

Up and down the state, cities like Buena Park have had similar concerns about the high-speed rail plans.

The city's two-year-old Metrolink station may or may not need to be destroyed to make way for the bullet train, so city officials asked that a new one be built as mitigation - and placed where the railroad tracks cross Dale Avenue, a location near the current station. The Buena Park Metrolink station, popular with commuters, opened in late 2007 at a cost of $11 million.

An earlier proposal would have wiped out 40 condominiums built near the station to make way for the high-speed rail. Even if their homes remain intact, the residents there want to save the station because they bought condos near it, Mayor Art Brown said. If the station were wiped out, Brown said, the residents worry the complex would become "a run-down slum."

If a new station needs to be built, the City Council wants it erected near Dale Avenue, close enough for condominium residents to have easy access to the station to commute without their cars.

"We really do listen to what you're telling us," Valerie Martinez, Southern California communications director for the High Speed Rail Authority, told the council.

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