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City of San Carlos Comments on High Speed Rail Alternatives Analysis

City of San Carlos Comments on High Speed Rail Alternatives Analysis

Robert Weil, San Carlos’ Public Works Director, has written an excellent letter to Robert Doty regarding a number of issues related to the High Speed Rail Project.  I am including the entire below in this post and encourage everyone to read it in it’s entirety.

What is encouraging about this letter (that I assume the city council approved to be sent) is that or the first time the city is looking at alternatives to the HSR design.  An aerial viaduct, a widened (and higher) berm, and an underground covered trench design.

Also for the first time I am seeing the city understand that there is a very real reason to look at High Speed Rail and the eight 50+ foot tall gated Apartment Complex buildings called the “San Carlos Transit Village” projects in relationship to each other.

Please see the EIR comments pages here and here for some of the feedback the city received on that project. This is a major step forward on the city’s part.  The GESC association is pleased to see this new development on the part of the city staff.  We can only hope that the city council and planning commission become engaged in this very serious issue.

DRAFT

Mr. Robert Doty
Peninsula Rail Project
1250 San Carlos Avenue
San Carlos, CA 94070-1306

Subject: City of San Carlos Comments on High Speed Rail Alternatives Analysis

Dear Mr. Doty,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the High Speed Rail Alternatives Analysis Report released April 8, 2010 by the Peninsula Rail Project. Thank you also for providing a presentation at a community meeting on April 22, 2010 and for providing staff to participate in the Hot Harvest Nights Farmers Market in Downtown San Carlos on May 6, 2010.

These presentations and workshops in the community along with meetings with the Peninsula Rail Project and City staff members have enabled us to develop the City’s comments on the High Speed Rail project Alternatives Analysis. It is our feeling that by providing our comments at this time, we will be better able to impact the work that is now underway on the next step of the project – the 15% Design Document, the Right of Way Study and the Draft Environmental hnpact Report (DEIR) that are due out in late summer or early fall.

The comments and questions here represent the collective input of the City Council, City Staff, San Carlos Residents and San Carlos Businesses. Our questions and comments are as follows:

Design Alternatives
1) The City understands that design alternatives where all 4 tracks (High Speed Rail and Caltrain) run at the same level can provide financial assistance to Caltrain’s electrification project, which is important to retaining Caltrain service. Retaining Caltrain service is important to the City of San Carlos’ vision of a sustainable transportation system.

2) We understand that the design alternatives available within the City of San Carlos portion of Subsection 4 of the High Speed Rail project segment from San Francisco to San Jose are as follows. (Please let us know if our understanding is correct.)

A) Aerial Viaduct with 4 Tracks – High Speed Rail and Caltrain would be operated on aerial viaducts. The Aerial Viaduct design would involve either a single 4 track viaduct or a pair of 2 track viaducts. This alternative would remove the existing earth berm that Caltrain operates on today. The aerial viaducts may be higher than the height of the existing earth berm, if necessary, to provide adequate vertical clearance for the existing depressed roadways at Holly Street, Brittan Avenue, and Howard Avenue.


B) Widened Berm with 4 Tracks
– Caltrain and High Speed Rail would operate on a widened four-track earth berm. The height of the berm would be higher than the existing earth berm, if necessary, to provide vertical clearance for the existing depressed roadways at Holly Street, Brittan Avenue, and Howard Avenue.

1) A sub-alternative would elevate the Aerial Viaduct(s) high enough to eliminate the existing roadway depressions and allow other streets to be reconnected at existing grade.

C) Covered Trench with 4 Tracks – High Speed Rail and Caltrain would operate in a covered trench with 4 tracks. As part ofthis design alternative, it may be necessary to return depressed streets at Holly, Brittan and Howard Streets to at grade.

Covered Trench Design Option

The City continues to hear some interest in considering the Covered Trench with 4 tracks option for High Speed Rail and Caltrain.  Our comments and questions with this design option are as follows:

A) We understand that the Covered Trench alternative is considerably more expensive than either the Aerial Viaduct or the Widened Berm alternatives. In Segment 4b (San Mateo to Redwood City), estimates from the Alternative Analysis show the Aerial Viaduct at $431 Million, the Berm starting at $229 Million and the Covered Trench at $1.7 Billion.

B) Is there a plan to raise the funds to cover the increased cost of the Covered Trench option by either the Peninsula Rail Project or the cities advocating for it?

Widened Berm Design Option

The Alternative Analysis says that using the berm design alternative is undesirable in most locations because it can result in a physical and visual division of a neighborhood and community.  The City appreciates the Peninsula Rail Project’s thoughts on using berm construction only when needed.  Based on comments we have received to date, while the City continues to believe this is a viable design alternative, a closer look at the Viaduct and Covered Trench options are definitely merited.

The Viaduct Design Option offers numerous opportunities to enhance the San Carlos community. Opportunities are shown on the Context-Sensitive Solutions (CSS) mapping exercise and are summarized below:

A) Additional street crossings could be constructed under the aerial viaduct. This would improve access to/from the east side area in San Carlos as well as relieve traffic congestion at the three existing street crossings.

B) Improved visibility for the San Carlos train depot, which is listed on the national register of historic places.

C) Additional pedestrian and bicycle connections could be provided in the east-west direction. This would help to relieve traffic and achieve the vision of the San Carlos General Plan that sidewalks, paths and bikeways would connect residential neighborhoods to all commercial areas, schools, parks and open space. The San Carlos Climate Action Plan finds that an improved system of bicycle and pedestrian paths could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 170 metric tons C02 equivalents per year.

D) Additional parking could be provided to serve the transit center at the Caltrain station. The City is currently implementing pedestrian and bicycle improvements on Old County Road, which could eliminate existing on-street parking. Parking under an aerial viaduct could offset this parking loss, averting parking impacts on residential areas on the east side of San Carlos.

E) Green street features could be provided to slow, spread and sink storm water. The City/County Association of Government is currently pursuing a grant for the San Carlos/Redwood City Urban Greening Plan. The plan would study a 900-acre area which includes 8,000 linear feet of Joint Powers Board right of way. The Urban Greening Plan will provide a comprehensive range of green infrastructure strategies and design solutions found in the San Mateo County Sustainable Green Streets and Parking Lots Design Guidebook. Green street design solutions such as vegetated swales, storm water planters, rain gardens, storm water curb extensions, and green gutters would be utilized throughout the planning area to maximize the amount of landscaping on city streets, capture and treat storm water runoff, and provide safer and more aesthetic street scapes. Removal of the existing earth berm for Caltrain would create additional land area for these stormwater features.

F) Improved visibility could be provided for east side businesses from El Camino Real. These include Home Depot, Lucky, Kelly-Moore and Kragen Auto. Because El Camino Real carries significantly more traffic than Old County Road, this visibility would enhance the economic viability of east side businesses, which are critically important to the local economy.

G) Park sites, including but not limited to a skate park, a dog park, and a community garden could be provided on the additional land made available with an aerial viaduct design. Is this correct? The City of San Carlos Master Plan for Parks, Open Space, Buildings, and other Recreational Facilities discusses the need for park facilities. The San Carlos General Plan identifies the lack of park facilities within 1/2 mile of residents in the southern portion of the City. This benefit would be limited in the short term by the City’s lack of funding to maintain existing Park facilities and to add new ones.

H) The existing rail trestle at Cordilleras Creek, could be removed, improving creek capacity and allowing natural creek bank vegetation to be restored at that location.

6. Seismic safety is a concern with the aerial viaduct design alternative. We understand that adjacent roadways may need to be closed after an earthquake until the viaduct is inspected and declared safe. This would have a significant impact on transportation systems during the critical period following an earthquake. If that is the case, are there structural enhancements that could eliminate the need for temporary roadway closures following an earthquake?

7. There are trade-offs between the two aerial viaduct options – either

a) raising the track profile to the minimum needed to clear the existing depressed roadways or

b) raising the track profile enough to eliminate the existing roadway depressions.

Increased height would have greater visual impact and would cause train noise to be broadcast over greater distances. However, it may provide additional opportunities as discussed above. We would like to better understand the options and look forward to working with you during the project design.

At the workshop on April 22nd, you mentioned an aerial viaduct in Germany that was designed to blend in with the environment. We would like to learn more about aesthetic design options, and would invite the Peninsula Rail Project to use San Carlos as the site for studying aesthetic options for the corridor. A visual simulation of various options could be illuminating.  We have established a high aesthetic standard with the existing grade separation project, and would expect the Peninsula Rail Project to maintain this standard. One of the design ideas to consider would be to use colored concrete and arch the viaduct in a style that suggests masonry.  This would complement the Richardsonian Romanesque style of the historic train depot in San Carlos.

9. Questions have been raised by City Staff and the community regarding the visual impact and appearance of the Overhead Catenary Structure (OCS) that would be required for a High Speed Rail system and for an Electrified CalTrain system.  To the extent that the wires and poles needed for such a system can be made less impacting from a visual standpoint, the better.

During the Community Workshop, you mentioned the potential to minimize these impacts by eliminating the need for a “boxy frame” OCS and instead using something along the lines of a pole and wire model. You also described an OCS in Germany that was designed to have minimal visual impact through the use of curves, colors and a clever approach to the physical pole. Because the OCS would add to the visual impact of either above ground design (Aerial Viaduct or Widened Berm), the City would like to see what could be done to make it blend into the environment as much as possible.

Project Impacts on Neighboring Parcels & Old County Road
Several questions and comments have come up regarding the impact of the project design alternatives on adjacent properties along the project route. We understand that answers to some of these questions will be addressed in the 15% Design and the Right of Way Study being developed now. The City’s comments and questions in this area include:

A) Can the Aerial Viaduct, Widened Berm and Covered Trench design alternatives be constructed within the existing Joint Powers Board right-of-way? The City would like more information on how the three design alternatives relate to the existing JPB right of way that is available in San Carlos. Please help us understand the implications of the construction sequence on adjacent lands.

B) At the Community Meeting held on April 22, 2010, comments were made by Peninsula Rail Project staff that some of the design alternatives can be built within the existing JPB right of way and will not physically impact Old County Road. Can you elaborate on this?

C) The existing right-of-way on Old County Road should not be reduced to less than its existing width. Reduced right-of-way would have an impact on vehicle, bicycle or pedestrian circulation. If the Peninsula Rail Project needs additional right-of-way for one or more of the project design alternatives, the City would prefer that the vacant property on the west side of the tracks be used for this purpose.

Questions and Concerns have been raised by City Staff and San Carlos residents regarding the relationship between the proposed San Carlos Transit Village project and the design alternatives for the High Speed Rail project.

We offer the following questions in this regard:

A) Can all three of the design options mentioned earlier (Aerial Viaduct with 4 Tracks, Widened Berm with 4 Tracks and Covered Trench with 4 Tracks) be constructed without affecting the area now reserved by the Transit Village developer?

B) If one or more of the design options will need additional right of way area – either for the final configuration of the route and/or for temporary tracks, construction staging and other needs – can you include this information in the 15% design?

C) Can the proposed High Speed Rail project be constructed after the San Carlos Transit Village is built if the Transit Village project proceeds on a faster path than High Speed Rail?

Once again, I want to thank the Peninsula Rail Project for this opportunity to comment on
the proposed High Speed Rail project. If you have any questions regarding this comment
letter on behalf ofthe City of San Carlos, please contact me at (650) 802-4202.

Sincerely,

Robert Weil
Public Works Director/City Engineer
Cc: City Council City Manager Assistant City Manager Community Development Director

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