This November, state residents will be asked to vote for a $9.9 billion bond measure to begin funding a high speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The vote could mean a whole new way to get to Southern California -- but it could also mean major changes to Mountain View's downtown landscape.
To allow the high speed trains to safely flash through the Caltrain corridor means numerous design challenges, some of which residents may not like. Trickiest of all is downtown, where there is little room at the train station for two additional tracks. As for Castro Street, either a grade crossing must be built or the street will be closed off.
"Something has got to give or something has to go up or down," said Bob Kagiyama, senior public works engineer.
That something could be Castro Street itself, which, according to an old city report, would have to be below-grade for half of Castro's historic 100 block if it were to go under the train tracks.
"The packet on the ballot measure doesn't go into all those details," said City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga. "The concept is fine, but the devil is in the details on this one for sure."
The proposed train would reach speeds of over 100 mph locally and up to 220 mph through the Central Valley, arriving in the Bay Area from Los Angeles in two and half hours. The whole thing would cost an estimated $40 billion, however the High Speed Rail Authority, which oversees the project, says it would actually cost more not to build the line. That's because an equivalent expansion for the state's airports and highways would cost an estimated $80 billion.
But up and down the Peninsula, cities are wondering how the project will be implemented along the Caltrain corridor, and Abe-Koga says she has even heard talk of sacrificing parts of Central Expressway and Alma Street. But the corridor is already wide enough for four tracks in Mountain View, excluding the downtown station, Kagiyama said.
Despite all the speculation, city officials say it's way too early to say exactly what will happen in Mountain View.
To have the new rail line tunnel under the whole downtown area is a very expensive solution, Kagiyama said. And going overhead "isn't going to happen."
Also, Rengstorff Avenue and Central Expressway could be lowered to allow cars to pass under both Caltrain and the high speed rail tracks, which would remain at-grade.
The High Speed Rail Authority would likely pay for the expensive projects, which could relieve the city of a heavy fundraising burden for the Rengstorff crossing. But the City Council made the Rengstorff grade separation a top goal earlier this year -- with no talk of high speed rail paying for it -- and funded preliminary studies on the project. The city aims to make the intersection safer.
Kagiyama said the city is anxious to talk to a contractor being hired within the next few weeks by the High Speed Rail Authority. This contractor would do local design work, and the city is eager to begin ironing out local concerns, such as the downtown train station's replica 1887 Train Depot and the light rail tracks, both of which may have to be moved.
Meanwhile, a proposed parking structure for the downtown train station has been put on hold by the VTA over its possible incompatibility with high speed rail, Abe-Koga said.