State high-speed rail officials this week adopted a track alignment for the San Jose to Merced section that runs through downtown Morgan Hill and includes a station in Gilroy.
On April 28, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors certified the Final Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement, and unanimously approved “Alternative 4” for the layout of the 90 mile section.
The council’s vote completes environmental clearance for nearly 400 miles of the 500-mile “Phase 1” alignment of the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim, an HSRA news release said. The April 28 board actions also represent its first certification of environmental studies for a project section in Northern California.
“Today’s approval represents another significant milestone and brings us closer to delivering high-speed rail between Silicon Valley and Central Valley,” said HSRA CEO Brian Kelly. “The authority is on the verge of realizing the vision of high-speed rail in the Bay Area. We look forward to continued collaboration with our federal, state and local partners to move the project forward in Northern California.
HSRA began the EIR process for the San Jose to Merced section more than two years ago. The in-depth study considered the impacts of four section alignment alternatives, as well as a non-project alternative.
Alternative 4 will bring high-speed rail through downtown Morgan Hill and Gilroy, alongside existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
HSRA staff added that Option 4 will upgrade and electrify the existing rail corridor between San Jose and Gilroy, enabling both HSR and Caltrain service.
“Next to San Jose, Gilroy will be the next most important transit hub on this stretch,” Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley said. “Gilroy Transit Center is fully prepared for this to happen.”
Members of Morgan Hill City Council and city staff had expressed a number of concerns about Alternative 4 during the public comment period, including the lack of HSR lane grade jumps in East Dunne, Tennant and Tilton. In June 2020 the council had sent comments to the HSRA urging it to consider adding grade separations at these intersections, allowing vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic to cross under the HST tracks without high-speed rail and road traffic interfering with each other.
“(Grade) separations at these level crossings are the appropriate and necessary solutions to several environmental impacts, in particular, but not limited to, safety response times, traffic and noise, as discussed in the ‘EIR/EIS for which vague and unconvincing mitigation measures were proposed,’” the June 2020 letter from the city states.
The HSRA board failed to implement these considerations when passing Alternative 4 on April 28.
Morgan Hill officials had preferred an alignment that took the HSRA system into the US 101 right-of-way on the east side of town.
Mayor Rich Constantine said that when it comes to vehicular traffic, two of Morgan Hill’s intersections that cross existing railroad tracks — Dunne and Tennant Avenues — are among the five busiest in San Francisco’s entire Caltrain corridor. at Gilroy. That means potential traffic slowdowns and emergency response delays from high-speed rail crossings could be “significant” when the system is fully built, Constantine said.
“If the barriers (high-speed rail crossing) are lowered for 30 seconds for each train, that’s a considerable amount of time” to delay vehicle traffic, said Constantine, who is a retired firefighter. “If it’s an emergency, I’ve been in this situation where we answer a call and have to stop because of a train.”
Morgan Hill Deputy City Manager Edith Ramirez added that city staff continued to provide feedback on the high-speed rail EIR and continued to advocate for grade jumps along the route when crossing busy intersections within the city limits.
The San Jose to Merced section runs from Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara to Carlucci Road in Merced County. The segment will pass through or approach the communities of Santa Clara, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and Los Banos. The project includes high-speed rail stations in San Jose Diridon and Gilroy, as well as a maintenance facility south or southeast of Gilroy.
The section will connect the existing high-speed rail construction in the Central Valley to Diridon Station. The HSR will take travelers from Fresno to San Jose in an hour, according to HSRA staff.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, “I am grateful, as are all of us in the City of San Jose, for the extraordinary work that has now resulted in this environmental document reflecting thousands of hours of stakeholder outreach. and a huge amount of environmental analysis. Completing this critically important high-speed rail project helps the state expand economic opportunity and affordable housing, two critical goals for all of us.
The board’s certification of the EIR and EIS marks a key milestone in the statewide project, bringing the section of the project closer to being “shovel ready,” the press release said. Construction of the project section is not yet fully funded.
East of Gilroy, the alignment includes over 15 miles of tunnels through Pacheco Pass into the Diablo Range. The Board will consider final environmental document certification for the San Francisco to San Jose section of the project this summer.
The California high-speed rail is currently under construction for 119 miles in the Central Valley at 35 active yards, news releases say. To date, over 7,500 construction jobs have been created since construction began.
When voters approved a $9.95 billion bond measure in 2008 to launch the high-speed rail project, the total projected cost was around $30 billion and it was expected to be completed by 2030. Since then the price soared to over $100 billion. , and officials have yet to identify where most of the funding will come from to complete the first phase between San Francisco and Anaheim.