Friday, August 28, 2009

California HSR not imperiled by court ruling, backers say

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Contrary to assertions made by opponents of high speed rail, the 800-mile, $44 billion HSR proposal for California is not imperiled, says Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Morshed reaffirmed HSR’s potential despite a court ruling ordering the Authority to revisit and possibly rewrite portions of its environmental impact statement for the Bay Area.

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Morshed also asserted that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny generally affirmed the agency's choice of Pacheco Pass as the preferred alternative for the rail line, countering suggestions made by the non-profit Planning and Conservation League that an alternate route over Altamont Pass was the clear-cut preferred option.

“Fundamentally, the judge agreed with our environmental work and our selection of the Pacheco Pass," he said. “The things the judge asked us to take a look at are relatively small items that we can accommodate." The judge found that the Authority "studied a reasonable range of alternatives and presented a fair and unbiased analysis" before it chose Pacheco Pass, which includes the Caltrain route in the Peninsula.

The court ruling also found that the Authority should have recirculated the environmental report following Union Pacific’s declaration to oppose any sharing of its right-of-way.

But Morshed said the Authority has already been operating under that premise, and has been evaluating options, including the use of properties adjacent to UP right-of-way.