First and foremost, cost estimates to build a high-speed rail system in California reach into the tens of billions of dollars now, without factoring in the cost overruns that have accompanied most large construction projects in the state in recent times. Big jobs like the new Bay Bridge and BART to SFO, as well as outside projects like the Big Dig in Boston and the Chunnel tunnel in England, nearly doubled in cost over the original estimates and delivered far fewer riders than promised.
Unless Gov. Schwarzenegger pulls it from the ballot, this November voters will decide whether to issue nearly $10 billion in bonds to start the project, which will need $20 billion to $30 billion more from the federal government and other sources to connect L.A. to San Francisco by 2020, and eventually Sacramento to San Diego. In essence, the vote on the first $10 billion is really a green light for the entire project, so we hope voters understand and realize what they are getting into.
Regardless of how you feel about high-speed trains, the cost alone should be enough to push this dream back where it came from. Given the huge state budget deficit — some $16 billion is projected for the next fiscal year — we don't see how any responsible citizen could vote to spend $10 billion more on a train that is likely to cost billions more than current estimates and is not addressing an urgent need. It doesn't make sense, at least in these lean budget times, to even consider it.
Passage of high-speed rail would also bring with it a Catch 22 requirement that will force traffic to go under or over the tracks, a costly process that the Menlo Park City Council has yet to accept.
The local impact and cost of such work will be tremendous. If crossings are installed at Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues in downtown Menlo Park, the downtown area adjacent to the railroad tracks would be decimated. And the impact at the Atherton intersections of Encinal, Watkins and Fair Oaks Lane would be a tremendous intrusion on these quiet neighborhoods. Even if the rail authority pays for the grade separations, we can see a snarl of disputes erupting as land and business owners attempt to win compensation for their property losses and for business lost during a long construction period.
More than a century ago, the Southern Pacific Railroad, forerunner of Caltrain, played a major role in opening up the Peninsula to sun-seeking San Franciscans. Since then millions of local residents have hopped aboard this convenient commuter link to San Francisco. Now high-speed rail threatens Menlo Park's tranquil downtown and Atherton's quiet grade crossings. If high-speed rail gets a green light in November, Menlo Park, Atherton and other Peninsula cities will be forced to install and endure grade separations that will dramatically change their relationship to the trains that sustained them since the first 19th century locomotive chugged up and down the Peninsula rail corridor.