Residents concerned about the impact of the California high-speed rail project on local towns have an opportunity to voice those concerns. The High Speed Rail Authority is asking the public what issues should be considered during an environmental review of the project.
Written comments about potential effects of the project on the "physical, human, and natural environment" must be submitted to the authority by March 6. San Mateo County residents also are invited to provide feedback at a "scoping meeting" from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22, at the Sam Trans Auditorium at 1250 San Carlos Ave. in San Carlos.
California voters approved the first wave of funding for the project through a $9.95 billion bond measure in the Nov. 4 election. The rail would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with electric trains that will reach up to 220 miles per hour.
The stretch of land from San Jose to San Francisco is the first span in the route for which the authority will carry out an environmental review. Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson suggested at a recent City Council meeting that Menlo Park and Atherton's participation in a lawsuit against the authority before the Nov. 4 vote may have influenced the authority's decision to review the Peninsula span first. The lawsuit challenges the project on broad environmental grounds.
The main concern locally is that the rail would require grade separations — overpasses or underpasses to separate the tracks from the roadway at six local intersections — that could result in years-long construction impacts for homes and businesses near the Caltrain tracks.
Local advocates favor a tunnel, because it would minimize impacts on the ground level. But that would likely be a more costly solution.
Menlo Park resident and longtime high-speed rail critic Martin Engel, a member of the city's Transportation Commission, has urged Menlo Park and Atherton to draft a joint resolution with other local cities by the March 6 deadline for comments.
"The more cities join as signatories to such resolutions the better," Mr. Engel wrote in a letter to the City Council.
In an interview, Menlo Park Councilman Rich Cline said he agreed with Mr. Engel that local jurisdictions should band together in some form, though the city has not yet planned any coordinated action. Atherton Mayor Jerry Carlson said he has spoken with council members in local cities about the rail, but that he's not sure if Atherton will reach out to local agencies in an official capacity.
Mr. Carlson anticipates that the town's rail committee will draft a letter with its feedback on the environmental review process in time for the City Council to review it at its next meeting, on Wednesday, Jan. 21. The Menlo Park City Council is slated to consider how the city should go about submitting its feedback at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
However Menlo Park decides to approach the high-speed rail project, it needs to come up with a plan soon, Councilman Cline said at a Jan. 6 goal-setting meeting.
"I think we're a little unorganized, and that's a big goal we need to get on, fast," he said.
High-speed rail could have a major effect on a project that has been a high priority for the Menlo Park council: hammering out a detailed parcel-by-parcel plan for El Camino Real and the downtown area, a two-year process for which the council recently allocated nearly $1 million. High-speed trains would run along the nearby Caltrain corridor, and there are questions about how construction might affect land within the study area.
"We've got to find a way to align those (projects)," Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle said. "Otherwise, we might end up wasting a lot of money."
■ A "scoping meeting" to determine which factors the High Speed Rail Authority should consider in its environmental review process will be held in the Sam Trans Auditorium at 1250 San Carlos Ave. on Thursday, Jan. 22 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
■ Residents can submit written feedback via e-mail to [email protected], with the subject line "San Francisco to San Jose HST."
■ For more information on the environmental review process, click here: Federal Register (see column 3).