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Posts from the "CAHSRA" Category

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Caltrain and High-Speed Rail Pursue Level Boarding, Compatible Platforms

California High-Speed Rail (foreground) and Caltrain (background, right) will have to share Transbay Center platforms. Image: CAHSR Authority

Correction 10/8: Caltrain and the CAHSRA haven’t agreed to create a joint specification for train cars, but will explore options for platform compatibility.

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to explore what options are available from train car manufacturers to allow for level boarding, examine the potential benefits of platform compatibility, and the impacts on the operation of each transit system of doing so.

The cars would allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

Still, many transit advocates remain skeptical that the CAHSRA is sincere about pursuing shared level platforms. The agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on October 1 specifying single-level train cars with a floor height of 51 inches above the rails, incompatible with most of the available bi-level electric commuter trains that Caltrain is considering. CAHSR officials insist they have not ruled out alternative platform heights, but say that trains operating at speeds of 220 mph work best with a floor height of around 50 inches.

Average weekday ridership on Caltrain has doubled since 2004 to 59,900 passenger trips in June of this year, fueled by robust employment growth in both San Francisco and throughout Silicon Valley. Rush-hour crowds continue to grow, and up to one-third of passengers are unable to find a seat on the most popular trains and instead pack into aisles and vestibules.

“I’ve heard stories of standees crowding three or four into a bathroom because there are not enough seats on these trains to handle the volumes of customers we have,” stated Caltrain Modernization Project Delivery Director Dave Couch.

Development at San Francisco’s Transbay Center will add thousands of Caltrain passengers every day. Image: Transbay Transit Center

About 20 percent more seats will be available on many rush hour trains by mid-2015, after a $15 million project to lengthen trains from five to six cars, using 16 surplus train cars purchased from LA’s Metrolink.

But Caltrain’s ridership growth shows no signs of letting up, as cities located along the rail line increasingly focus commercial and residential development within walking distance of Caltrain stations along El Camino Real.

“We’re anticipating to take on 200,000 new jobs and another 94,000 units of housing by 2040, primarily along the Caltrain corridor and Market Street,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director. “People want to live here, and companies want to stay here and grow here.”

Capacity on an electrified Caltrain could eventually double from today’s levels, to over 9,000 passengers per hour, if eight-car trains were run eight times an hour, according to an analysis conducted by Friends of Caltrain. But running such frequent service requires both level boarding and shared platforms, so that Caltrain could use any of the Transbay Center’s six proposed platforms even after CAHSR service starts in 2029.
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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

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Appeals Court Lifts Bond Restrictions on CAHSR, Funding Picture Clears

German and French high-speed trains in Paris. Photo by Ryan Stern

A California Court of Appeals has removed the most significant legal impediment threatening California’s High-Speed Rail project. The unanimous decision of the three-judge panel, rendered on Thursday, reversed Judge Michael Kenny’s Nov. 25, 2013 ruling, which had blocked the state from issuing bonds under Prop. 1A, the High Speed Rail Act of 2008.

California High Speed Rail breaks ground in Fresno.

California High Speed Rail breaks ground in Fresno.

Justice Vance Ray, the presiding justice on the Third District of the California Courts of Appeal, writes that Kenny overstepped by injecting the judiciary into the role of the legislature.

While Proposition 1A authorized the state to issue $9.95 billion worth of bonds, the legislature had to approve them based on an evaluation of the project and its business plan. An extensive debate took place in the California Assembly and Senate and the issuance was approved in 2012. It passed in the State Senate with no votes to spare.

So everything appeared to be moving smoothly until Kenny’s decision last year which seemed to imperil the High-Speed Rail project. Yesterday’s ruling paved the ground for the project to continue planning and construction as enough funds to complete the route are sought.

The appeals court agreed with the California Attorney General’s argument that Judge Kenny’s decision last year “…jeopardizes the financing of public infrastructure throughout the state by interfering with the Legislature’s exercise of its appropriation authority, invents judicial remedies where none are provided by law, and subverts the very purpose of the validation statutes.”

“Moreover,” adds the court, “such an intrusive standard would offend the fundamental separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government.”

A former deputy Attorney General and expert on state legal proceedings who spoke to Streetsblog on anonymity said that the appellate decision is intentionally detailed and long. “They want to put an end to this nonsense,” he said, referring to the court’s desire to stop future legal proceedings from delaying the project.

Of course, there are plenty of High-Speed Rail opponents who were unhappy with the ruling.

“Justices lowered the bar for agencies to provide evidence of need for funding,” said Aaron Fukuda, a party in the case and co-chairman of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability, a Kings County-based group. “Essentially the Authority could have written on a post-it ‘give me money’ and that is good enough.”

Citizens for High-Speed Rail Accountability claimed in their suit that changes in the project, both in cost and estimated speed of the finished rail line, invalidated the voters decision to partially fund the project in 2008.

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Deal Reached on CA’s Cap-and-Trade Spending Plan

Earlier this evening, the bicameral Budget Conference Committee  approved a compromise between state legislators and Governor Brown on how to spend $850 million in revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade system for the next fiscal year.

The new plan largely stuck to the Governor’s original proposal for the first year of the expenditure plan, but it adds set-asides for transit and affordable housing, two important parts of the Senate’s proposal. The compromise also incorporates an allocation method for funding in future years.

Despite Republican opposition, California High Speed Rail will still receive one-quarter of the funds generated by the state’s Cap and Trade Program.

The compromise proposal sets aside $250 million for high-speed rail, which is what the Governor proposed, but future year allocations for the bullet train would be 25 percent rather than the 33 percent he requested. The Senate’s proposal called for 15 percent allocated to high speed rail.

The agreement would split the $50 million Brown proposed for intercity rail, giving half to transit capital and construction costs and dividing the other half between transit operations and intercity rail. Future revenue streams would give 5 percent to each of the three categories, giving transit a solid, predictable source of funding for at least the next five years.

Brown’s original proposal had no set aside for local transit, but the Senate, under the leadership of Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), had countered the governor’s plan by calling for $200 million for transit operating and capital expenses.

Steinberg’s plan called for 20 percent of cap-and-trade funds to be spent on affordable housing near transit and sustainable communities planning. This would have amounted to about $170 million the first year. The current agreement would give this category of projects — which could include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and planning — about $130 million in the first year, with future allocations at 20 percent.

“This plan is good for California,” said committee co-chair Mark Leno (D- San Francisco). “With this proposal we will continue to not only lead the state but also the nation on this important issue of greenhouse gas emission reduction, when time is running out.”

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CA High-Speed Rail Authority Certifies EIR for Fresno-to-Bakersfield Segment

Click on the image to go to a higher resolution pdf. Image via California High Speed Rail

Click on the image to go to a higher resolution pdf. Image via California High Speed Rail

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) Board voted unanimously today to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project segment between Fresno and Bakersfield in the Central Valley. This section of CAHSR can now move to the “final design” stage that precedes construction.

This is the second segment of the project to have its individual FEIR approved; the segment between Modesto and Fresno was certified in May of 2012.

The two-day board hearing in Fresno featured some contentious and emotional comments from the public, both in support and in opposition to the project.

Local farmers who would be directly affected by construction or operations of the system worried that they would not be fairly compensated for loss of their land. Several board members expressed sympathy for those individuals, but then went on to talk about the “greater good” presented by high-speed rail.

Board member Tom Richards pointed out that the project would mean the loss of “less than 1/10 of 1 percent” of agricultural land in the valley. In contrast, said Chair Dan Richard, the state estimates that “over 33,000 acres will be lost to future development within the counties of King and Tulare.”

High-speed rail “will be a tremendous boon for the Valley,” said Richard, “and the benefits tremendously outweigh the costs.”

Several Fresno State University students spoke in support of high-speed rail through the valley, including one student who said her original plan had been to earn a degree and move away. Now, “because of high-speed rail, I plan to stay,” she said. Her testimony and that of another student who called high-speed rail the “next logical progression for transportation in California” were highlighted by board members in their closing remarks.

Some speakers raised concerns about valley fever, a sometimes serious illness contracted by inhaling spores that normally live in the soil in the Central Valley, but can become airborne when construction or farming activities disturb the soil. Richards proposed an amendment to the EIR that would incorporate several construction design safety features to protect workers.

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Updated Report Shows CAHSR’s GHG Reductions Less Costly Than Thought

UCLA’s Lewis Center revised some of the estimates in its recent report comparing the costs of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions using California high-speed rail to those of bike, pedestrian, and local transit projects. The report’s authors found that high-speed rail is not as expensive as an emission reduction as they first thought.

Lewis_yellow_box_REVISED_copyThe update makes several adjustments to the analysis, which compared CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light rail and the Orange Line bus rapid transit route, which also has a bikeway that runs parallel to it. Originally, the report found high-speed rail to be a much less cost-effective way to reduce GHGs than any of the three urban transit options. While the new cost-benefit analysis for high-speed rail looks much better, it’s still not quite on par with local transit investments.

The new comparison of costs among high-speed rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, and the bikeway is shown in the table below. As discussed in our previous story on this report, the authors consider anything less than the current price of a metric tonne of emissions under the cap-and-trade system (about $11) a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The lower the cost, the greater the cost-effectiveness.

The UCLA authors’ new cost/benefit estimates.

The new estimate for CAHSR is -$335 per metric tonne, compared to the previous $361. Those estimates are the full public cost plus user savings (in the case of high-speed rail, that’s the price of a ticket compared to the cost of driving or flying). However, the bus rapid transit, light-rail, and bikeway are still more cost-effective at -$676, $1,233, and $3,569, respectively.

Here’s why the numbers changed:
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Senate Committee Grills CA High-Speed Rail Authority on Its Funding Plan

The California High Speed Rail construction and phasing plan. Source: CAHSRA’s 2013 Report on the Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California GHG Emissions Levels

Doubts about the High Speed Rail Authority’s ability to fund its estimated $68 billion program dominated last week’s Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing (see the background report in this PDF). Committee Chair Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said he was “somewhat skeptical” about the Authority’s 2014 Draft Business Plan and questioned CAHSRA CEO Jeff Morales on the authority’s reliance on uncertain funding sources.

“You couldn’t get a [small business loan] based on what we’re assuming here,” DeSaulnier told Morales, referring to the high cost estimates and funding prospects in the Business Plan.

DeSaulnier asked all the questions at the informational hearing, since he was the only Committee member who showed up for it. However, he came well prepared, so instead of  yet another presentation on how cap-and-trade works, there was a pointed exchange about the funding capabilities of high speed rail.

DeSaulnier warned Morales that the Authority may have a hard time getting the necessary votes in the state legislature to pass the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan, which proposes giving $250 million to high-speed rail from the proceeds of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law, A.B. 32.

“If the legislature does not approve the governor’s allocation of cap-and-trade funds, what do you foresee would be the impact on the high-speed rail program?” DeSaulnier asked Morales.

Morales responded, “The governor’s proposal allows us to move forward with certainty. If we can accelerate the program, it saves money.”

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Report: In Cutting Emissions, CAHSR Expensive Compared to Local Upgrades

Streetfilms featured Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT and bike path in 2009. A new UCLA report says infrastructure projects like the Orange Line are a better way to invest cap-and-trade funds than CA High-Speed Rail.

UCLA’s Lewis Center published a report yesterday finding that California’s High-Speed Rail project is a relatively expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the near-term, compared to upgrading local transit and bicycle infrastructure.

Comparing CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light-rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit route and bikeway, the report finds high-speed rail to be the least cost-efficient investment the state could make.

The high-speed rail project costs more per metric tonne of GHG emissions than the current cost of allowances under cap-and-trade, the report says. If the savings costs to users are included in the calculations, then the light-rail, busway, and bikeway projects cost far less than the cap-and-trade auction price, which makes them more cost-effective ways to meet the emission reduction goals set out in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32.

“There are a lot of projects that can reduce GHG emissions,” said Juan Matute, one of the report’s authors. “And differentiating between them will become more important in the future. One way is to look at the cost-effectiveness of the reductions.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cap-and-trade expenditure plan includes $250 million for high-speed rail to be spent in the next year alone, but very little for other transit or bicycle and pedestrian projects. High-speed rail isn’t scheduled to be online until 2029, so the savings it yields won’t help meet the state’s 2020 emission reductions goals. Meanwhile, the funds could be used for more local investments such as transit services or bicycle and pedestrian connections that would reduce GHG emissions more quickly.

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Why CA High-Speed Rail Isn’t as Doomed as Media Reports Say It Is

TGV High Speed Rail in France. Photo: TGV

TGV High Speed Rail in France. Photo: TGV

Last week, the media reported, once again, that the California High-Speed Rail project is in its death throes.

The latest batch of articles are based on a Nov. 25 decision by Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, in which he ordered the CAHSR Authority to revise a 2011 funding plan before it issues state bonds under Prop. 1A, the 2008 measure that got California’s HSR project going. The ruling also green-lighted work on the Central Valley portion of the project.

So what does the ruling mean? Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and Chair Emeritus of the CAHSRA Board, says it’s unlikely to delay the project, since the authority should be able to rely on federal funds for some time before state funds become necessary.

“All you have to do is front-load the federal money. Spend the $3.4 billion from the Feds,” explained Diridon, referring to stimulus spending that’s available from Washington. “Then you spend the state part later.”

The lawsuits against CAHSR keep coming from plaintiffs like John Tos and Aaron Fukuda, who own land in the Central Valley where the tracks are planned. When the CAHSRA tried an omnibus lawsuit, in which it basically sued itself as a defense against the many different legal actions that could be lined up to stop the bonds, Judge Kenny didn’t go for it. “All the judge said is the Authority can’t have blanket validation of the bonds,” said Diridon.

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