Thursday, August 27, 2009

EIS inadequate for California HSR, judge rules

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s environmental impact statement for the Bay Area portion of its proposed 800-mile, $44 billion high speed rail system is inadequate, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled Wednesday.

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The decision validated some of the objections filed by conservation groups, joined by outright opponents of HSR in the Bay Area communities of Atherton and Menlo Park. Other objections, such as the claim that HSR promotes urban sprawl, were judged to be without merit and dismissed by Kenny.

Left open for political maneuvering was the specific route of the system in the Bay Area. Some contend that HSR would carry more passengers if the service followed a route over the Altamont Pass instead of the recommended Pacheco Pass routing.

The judge ruled the Authority’s environmental impact report did not fully address vibration issues, land-use impacts outside of sprawl, such as the displacement of residences and businesses, or the impact of Union Pacific’s refusal to share its right-of-way for HSR use.

One observer said the ruling appears not to require any change to the current proposed route in the Bay Area. But the non-profit Planning and Conservation League, one of the plaintiffs, said the decision means the choice to build the train along the Pacheco Pass route will be rescinded and the impacts and alternatives more thoroughly studied.

Tina Andolina, the group’s legislative director, said, "We hope the Authority will get right to work on a thorough and comprehensive review. The public supports high speed rail but wants it done right since we simply can't afford to throw $10 billion [sic] at a project that is done haphazardly."

Andolina said the alternative route along the Altamont Pass route would have fewer environmental and community impacts, serve more riders, and likely cost less than the proposed Pacheco Pass route.