Calling it a "huge step" for boosting California's transportation network, the state agency charged with building the controversial high-speed-rail line approved on Thursday a business plan for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system.
The business plan, which the rail authority unveiled two weeks ago, commits to building a "blended" system on the Peninsula under which high-speed rail and Caltrain share two tracks. The previous vision, which was widely panned by cities along the Peninsula, called for a four-track system along the Caltrain corridor. The new plan, unlike previous drafts, also calls for early investments in the north and south segments of the line (what the plan calls "bookend segments.")
Construction would begin in Central Valley with a 300-mile stretch between Bakersfield and the San Fernando Valley.
The business plan estimates the cost of the project at $68.4 billion, far more than the roughly $40 billion estimate that was presented to the voters in 2008 (before they voted to authorize a $9.95 billion bond for the project) but about $30 billion less than the previous business plan, which pegged the cost at about $98 billion.
"I am pleased to announce today that the High-Speed Rail Authority has taken a huge step forward toward making a coordinated statewide transportation network a viable reality," rail authority board Chair Dan Richard said in a statement after the meeting.
The rail authority's board of directors also approved Thursday a memorandum of understanding with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that includes a plan to fund the long-awaited electrification of Caltrain. The rail authority would pay about $706 million for the $1.5 billion electrification project with the balance coming from state and local sources.
Adrienne Tissier, who chairs the MTC and the Caltrain board of directors, said in a statement that she appreciates the rail authority's decision to embrace the "blended" approach, which was proposed a year ago by state Sen. Joe Simitian, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park.
In approving the business plan, the board also attached an amendment committing the rail authority to working with Orange County transportation officials on enabling a "one-seat" ride to and from Anaheim. That means passengers headed south would not have to switch trains in order to get to Anaheim.
"We now stand poised to have an operational high-speed passenger rail system within 10 years," Mike Rossi, a member of the rail authority's board of directors, said in a statement. "By working with community leaders throughout the state we will begin construction soon on a smarter, more cost-effective transportation option for all Californians that reflects the direction mandated by voters in 2008 with the passage of Proposition 1A."
While the rail authority's commitments to pursue the blended system on the Peninsula and to partially fund Caltrain's electrification have been lauded by Caltrain officials and business groups, the project continues to polarize residents and city officials in Palo Alto and surrounding cities. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton City Councils each met in closed sessions this week to discuss fresh litigation against the rail authority over the agency's environmental analysis for the project.