August 29, 2003
Assemblymember Guy S. Houston
Sacramento, CA 94249
Re: California High Speed Rail and the Fifteenth Assembly District
Dear Mr. Houston:
The California High Speed Rail Authority is going to release a draft
Environmental Impact Statement in a month or two on what could
become the largest public works project in California history.
Unfortunately, with no EIR/EIS analysis, the Authority has dropped from
consideration a potentially superior routing for High Speed Rail via
Altamont Pass corridor, and is only looking at alternatives that all
the Bay Area by crossing the rugged Diablo Range far to the south. I am
enclosing a fact sheet with a map I have produced for your review.
The decision to not include the Altamont routing in the eir/eis
has adverse implications for your district, for the success of high
rail, and for the environment. Since the High Speed Rail Authority will
be seeking state funding for this project, I would like to encourage
ask for a full and impartial analysis of the Altamont Pass alignment
Briefly, you may recall that the Authority’s predecessor was the
High Speed Rail Commission. The Commission sunsetted in 1996 and
was replaced by the Authority. The Commission’s stated preference for
an alignment to the Bay Area was via Altamont. For what appears to be
boosterism pertaining to Santa Clara County, after the Commission
sunsetted and was replaced by the Authority, the Altamont alignment was
dropped with only cursory review. Instead, all trains would be required
to go to San Jose before operating north to San Francisco Airport and
San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal. A better way is to operate all
via Livermore, with some going to San Jose and some directly to San
Francisco Airport and San Francisco.
As a key member of the Assembly Transportation Committee, you are in
a position to insist that the Altamont Pass alignment be studied as an
Why the Altamont is important to the
District and should be studied
The Altamont is much more convenient than the southern routes for the
rapidly growing Fifteenth Assembly District
With the Altamont alignment, a station would be located just west of
Isabel Avenue in Livermore. With any of the other alignments, the
nearest station would be in either San Jose (via the congested Sunol
Grade) or in Redwood City (via the congested Nimitz Freeway and San
Mateo Bridge). For someone living in Alamo, for instance, it is 20
to the High Speed station in Livermore, and 45 miles to the station in
Redwood City. For someone working at, say, the Livermore National
Laboratory, the distance to the Livermore station is 6 miles, versus 38
miles to the station in San Jose.
The Altamont would cost $2 billion
less to construct than the southern alignments
This savings, which makes the statewide project more viable, is
when one considers that a future phase of the Authority’s program, a
to Sacramento, would have more than 50 miles of track already built
because of Altamont than if a southern alignment is chosen. This also
the benefit of bringing Livermore much closer to the State Capital than
would be the case with one of the southern High Speed alignments.
The Altamont alignment would provide a
very fast commute, benefitting
your constituents and businesses in the Fifteenth Assembly District.
Travel time for a commuter High Speed Train from Livermore to the
Great America station (in the heart of Silicon Valley and an existing
transit hub) would be about 20 minutes. The Altamont Commuter
Express (ACE) today takes 40 minutes, twice as long, to travel a
distance from Pleasanton’s station at the County Fairgrounds to Great
America. And passengers using BART, should it ever be built south into
Santa Clara County, would ride from Pleasanton to Milpitas, and then by
light rail to Great America, a trip of about 50 minutes.
Of course, the Altamont also brings cities such as Tracy and Modesto
into the High Speed network. This means that employees of the National
Laboratory who live in San Joaquin County will be able to commute to
work much faster than at present, and help relieve traffic congestion
the Altamont Pass on Interstate 580.
The need for BART to San Jose is
eliminated with the Altamont Alignment
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has supported
construction of BART south of Fremont as a way to bring commuters into
Santa Clara County from Pleasanton and Livermore in the Amador
Valley. The VTA has set aside $2 billion from its 2006 sales tax for
BART project. But the BART project is inferior in every way when
compared to High Speed Rail. Not only would BART be much slower, it
costs more to build per mile than High Speed Rail!
If the BART project is not built, about $4 billion will be saved, a not
insignificant sum. VTA is on record as seeking a Full Funding Grant
Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration for $725 million.
Those federal funds could be made available for investment in new
projects elsewhere in our Bay Area or to accelerate the final payment
the FFGA for the BART to SFO project.
We know that you have been a long-time supporter of BART
improvements. But in these times of scarce resources and hard
governmental decisions, policy makers such as yourself need to look at
what can be done to stretch taxpayer funds and get the best return for
our investment. BART serves important purposes in its existing service
area, but as a future for the Fifteenth AD and all of California, the
evidence shows that high speed rail serves more people more
This is also true for commuters residing in your District, who would
enjoy a faster and more economical home-to-work trip to Silicon Valley
and to San Francisco on the HSR system than on BART.
The need for the ACE Railway is
eliminated with the Altamont Alignment
The ACE runs only three trains per weekday during the morning and
afternoon commutes. As Santa Clara County has recently scaled back its
financial commitment to ACE, it seems unlikely we will see significant
increases in train service from the San Joaquin Valley, via Pleasanton,
Santa Clara County. Further, since the travel time for High Speed
from the San Joaquin Valley to the Amador Valley and Santa Clara
County are a fraction of the ACE, it is not clear to our organization
the ACE will have any passengers once High Speed Rail is operational.
Not having ACE passenger service frees up freight slots on the busy
Pacific line, and saves both operating and capital funds.
At this point, what is important is to have Altamont added back as an
alternative alignment to be studied in the environmental process. That
way, the public, the state and the federal governments can all make an
informed choice and select the best alternative. What also would be
helpful is to make sure that the BART/VTA environmental process
considers High Speed Rail as an alternative.
Now that local legislators are becoming aware of the issue they are
expressing concern and asking that the Altamont alternative receive a
and fair analysis. Please see a letter (enclosed) from Senator Speier,
of several members of the California Legislature who have been written
in support of studying the Altamont alignment.
Opponents to studying the Altamont alternative claim there is not time
to do the study. However, continued refusal by the Authority to
this alternative renders the draft EIR/EIS legally vulnerable, and
the success of the entire project. Many open space and transportation
advocates in the Bay Area are very concerned with the situation as it
stands today, and with $25 billion at stake, are hoping someone in a
leadership position, such as you, makes sure project planning is done
right. Our transportation future depends on having the right choices
We would be happy to meet with you or your staff if you would like