High Speed Rail Experts Determine Altamont Pass Corridor Feasible And Preferred Route To Bay Area

A recent report commissioned by three environmental groups, including the Planning and Conservation League, concludes that California’s high speed rail project should access San Francisco and the Bay Area via the Altamont corridor.  The California High Speed Rail Authority, however, continues to insist that the Pacheco Pass and Caltrain corridor, located south of San Jose, is its preferred route for the San Francisco-Central Valley program segment. 

On May 4, 2010, the Planning and Conservation League, California Rail Foundation, and the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) held a press conference on the report with Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock, Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and former mayor of Atherton, Jim Janz. In the report, French rail experts from the Setec Ferroviaire Company found that using the Altamont Pass corridor, located near Livermore and Tracy, would avoid additional sprawl in Santa Clara and Merced counties, address traffic congestion in the East Bay, and avoid impacting the Grasslands Ecological Area, the state’s largest fresh water wetlands complex. 

In its environmental impact report (EIR) for the Bay Area route, the Authority determined that the Altamont Pass corridor was unfeasible and chose instead to use the Pacheco route into the Bay Area. Their decision was successfully challenged in court by the three environmental groups and the cities of Menlo Park, Atherton, and Palo Alto. Last summer, the courts determined that the Authority’s EIR was inadequate and ordered them to re-examine their decision; however, they continue to dismiss the Altamont Pass.

At the press conference, president of TRANSDEF David Schonbrunn hailed the Setec report’s feasibility determination, while Burlingame Mayor Baylock urged the Authority to “seriously consider” the Altamont corridor or risk continued costly litigation.  The Setec report and feasibility determination comes on the heels of the California State Auditor’s sharp criticism of the Authority’s shoddy financial planning and negligent handling of taxpayer funds.  Although we recognize the Authority’s successful promotion of high-speed rail to voters in advance of Proposition 1A in 2008, PCL has regularly argued that the Authority lacks the transportation planning expertise to properly implement the project, and we’ve called for greater legislative oversight of the agency and the project’s progress.