Sept. Editorial: Palo Alto, Calif., officials need to hurry up and make a choice

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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Sometimes it is embarrassing to just sit there looking at packs, but when my mind is all twisted, my thinking turns lazy and always rests on the cheapest of the bunch.

I recently stepped back into the sports card-collecting hobby. For about five years of my childhood, I lived for going to the local drug store or 7-Eleven for a few packs of baseball cards (then Slurpees turned crazy on me and started providing player cups, but that’s a story for another column). For about 25 cents you could get a pack of at least 15 cards, and for about a quarter more you were able to feast your eyes on a value pack of about 30 cards. These days, there are about 35 different varieties of baseball cards. Topps Series 1, Topps Heritage, Donruss Chrome … then you have the traditional cards, ones with a piece of a player’s bat or uniform, ones with the player’s autograph, etc. A chance at DNA is going to cost you more. Some boxes go for thousands of dollars. I guess I’ll settle for a Willson Contreras double … or triple. 

The city officials in Palo Alto, Calif., might as well play eeny-meeny-miny-moe with just three options left to fix grade-crossing congestion. Instead, it feels like an endless game of Trivial Pursuit where no one can come up with the final right answer for the win. 

For more than a decade the city council has had four sitting on a shelf, but just recently pulled one down and marked it with a No Sale. A viaduct carrying railroad tracks over traffic was defeated by a 6-1 vote on Aug. 23. What’s left is a trench option between Loma Verde Avenue and the San Antonio Caltrain station in Mountain View, an underpass, and a hybrid design that calls for both raising the tracks and lowering the roads. 

Palo Alto should have picked its pleasure and already built the solution.

In baseball card value, the trench is equal to paying your life savings for a golden pack that might have a card with a piece of Babe Ruth’s bat and his autograph. The cost could be as much as $900 million, which means in the end it will certainly pass $1 billion. Creeks would have to be realigned and groundwater would need to be pumped along the entire length of the corridor. The underpass option would require more property acquisition and turning restrictions on several streets. The hybrid calls for berm for trains, but is not winning the popularity vote by the politicians. 

The public does not want the viaduct or hybrid design. One city councilman described the viaduct as a pile of ugly concrete (like looking at that third Willson Contreras card in the same pack).

It’s no wonder a recent study by the Eno Center for Transportation reveiled transit projects in the U.S. take longer to execute than in Europe. The political structure is about as different as a Topps Series 1 card and a Topps Inception Patch Autograph card. My feeling is across the Atlantic transportation infrastructure is considered more of a necessity rather than a game lawmakers play. 

Palo Alto should have picked its pleasure and already built the solution. Yet here we are with three unopened packs still in the display case. If the public is against the viaduct and hybrid options, that leaves the trench idea or the underpass design. If planners were on top of their game decades ago, this would have all been avoided depending on which came first, the track or the roads. Which would you pick? 

I know one thing, if I was a decision maker I would not feel right just standing and staring.

Categories: Bridge/Retaining Walls/Tunnels, Freight, Passenger, Rail News, Railroad News, Safety/Training, Track Construction, Track Structure
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