Altamont or bust! High speed rail is dead to me.

I’ve been meaning to write about something about high speed rail forever now, and somehow I just haven’t found the time to get around to it. The subject popped back up near the top of my list after last week’s dumb Express story and its implicit endorsement of the dumb decision favoring the Pacheco Pass alignment. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about it anymore, because Eric at Transbay Blog wrote a great post about it that says pretty much everything I wanted to say, but way better than I would have written it. Go read it. And read the comments, too.

Well…not quite everything.

Last fall, Oakland’s City Council passed a resolution “urging the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the State Legislature, and the Governor of California” to select the Altamont alignment for the train. Now, this wasn’t exactly a particularly exciting decision. It’s standard practice for cities to tell the State that they want their share of large capital projects and the money that comes with them.

Ron Dellums and Ignacio De La Fuente introduced the resolution, and wrote a short and sweet letter (PDF!) urging the rest of the Council to endorse the Altamont route:

On October 12, 2007 the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will make a recommendation the Regional Rail Plan, including recommending an alignment for the California High Speed Rail Project. The Altamont pass alignment has clear benefits for the East Bay and Oakland that the Pacheco Pass alignment will not. In addition, the Altamont Pass is expected to be more economically and technically feasible than the Pacheco Pass alignment.

MTC’s recommendation is a critical step in the long planning and implementation process for High Speed Rail in California. We ask for your support of this important resolution which expresses the City of Oakland’s recognition of the need for High Speed Rail in California and strong support for an alignment through the Altamont Pass, East Bay, and Oakland.

The item was introduced on September 4th, and was first on the City Council agenda on September 18th (PDF!) (nice work BTW, whoever did those minutes), then again on October 2 (PDF!), but both times the item was delayed and put off for another meeting. By the time the Council made their endorsement on October 16th, the MTC had already recommended the Pacheco Pass.

And once they finally got around to discussing it on the 16th, Nancy Nadel dominated the discussion with her incessant ranting about how disruptive construction is and how BART should be underground, which will allow her to finally revitalize 7th Street. After like 45 minutes (at least!) of petty squabbling about how much construction sucks, they finally passed the resolution, but only after amending it to read that they only wanted the Altamont alignment if the tunnels were bored and BART gets undergrounded through West Oakland at the same time.

Okay. I think that no matter how much some of us may have hoped for reason and practicality to triumph, it was fairly clear from the beginning that the fix was in for the Pacheco Pass. I don’t think anything the Oakland City Council did or did not do would have changed the decision of the MTC or the CAHSRA. So in that sense, all this nonsense doesn’t matter. But it still irks me. I just find it really frustrating, and I think very indicative of how completely dysfunctional our City Council is that they can’t even get it together to ask for the freaking bullet train.

And FYI: When the California High Speed Rail Authority Board met in December to pick an alignment, 31 people spoke on the item. The Mayors of two of the Bay Area’s three largest cities showed up to plug the route that would most benefit their city. One guess who didn’t make it.

One thought on “Altamont or bust! High speed rail is dead to me.

  1. Eric

    That’s a pretty unfortunate exchange you’ve related there. Then again, where Nadel is concerned, there’s not much that surprises me anymore. But yeah, unfortunately Pacheco has essentially been fixed for years, and I’m not thrilled to think about $40 billion in the hands of the decision-makers who either fail to see or choose to ignore common sense when it slaps them in the face.