City digs the trench solution
Other high-speed rail options risk blight, council says
If 125-mile-per-hour electric trains are going to whoosh through town as planned by the California High Speed Rail Authority, the City Council wants to put most of Mountain View's Caltrain corridor in a partially covered trench, members said Tuesday.
Helping to inform council members' opinions were a slew of new images showing what a trench would look like from street level at two key rail crossings — Castro Street and Rengstorff Avenue. With two additional tracks, the train corridor could remain at ground level with streets running underneath or be raised by 27 feet on a 90-foot-wide aerial platform that's much wider at the downtown station — neither of which council members find to be visually pleasing.
"I can't see anything but an immense risk of blight which will have an impact on downtown business," said Mayor Ronit Bryant. With an aerial structure, "housing values will go down. People will suddenly be facing an elevated structure with trains on it 24/7."
With overhead electrical poles 52 feet above the ground, so far it appears that the option of running an aerial platform through town is the least favorite among Mountain View's residents, and council members agreed.
Some residents would prefer to close Castro Street and make it a pedestrian mall to allow the tracks to remain at grade level.
"I think we really do need to fortify support for the trench and dissuade the aerial" platform, said council member Mike Kasperzak. "How it looks and what it does to San Antonio and Shoreline over-crossings — it just messes up too many things."
One resident said that if the aerial platform were to be built, "We should go ahead and change the name of the city. Instead of Mountain View it should be High Speed Rail View." Another balked at the idea of having heavy trains running overhead near homes, even though Mountain View has relatively few near the Caltrain corridor. "Who wants to live near that?" he said.
The trench option is the most expensive, however, and council members are wondering if the city is going to be asked to foot the bill. The rail authority is hoping to receive billions from local governments to help fund the project.
"I believe the costs are going to dictate more than anything in the end," said Councilman Jac Siegel. "If we don't come out strongly now — then forevermore hold your peace."
According to an online survey conducted by the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association in which 33 downtown residents responded, only one person liked the aerial platform option for Castro Street, while 22 liked the trench option. Two wanted the tracks to remain at grade with Castro Street depressed, but seven others said they preferred the idea of closing off Castro Street to make it a pedestrian promenade, which would also allow the tracks to stay at grade. Association secretary Robert Cox reported the results.
Many support the trench option because it appears to have the least impact on the landscape. A covering over half of it would allow a pedestrian walkway from downtown to Rengstorff Park. But resident Doug Delong expressed concern about the "the bleeding gaping wound you are going to have for three-to-five years" from the construction of the trench option.
"I have no doubt this will be the Big Dig for the next century," Kasperzak said of the $40 billion rail project, which is mandated to run high-speed trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The city's downtown committee voted unanimously for the trench alternative, expressing concern about possible negative impacts to downtown business from the other options. But council member Tom Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University, said he believed high-speed rail would likely lead to more "human activity" downtown that would be good for the local economy.
Public works director Mike Fuller said there is enough room on Mountain View's Caltrain corridor for two additional tracks everywhere except the San Antonio train station, where additional right of way would have to be acquired. The rail authority has said the consequence of that could result in the loss of a lane on Central Expressway.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com