Locally elected officials often talk a big game when it comes to the need for highway expansion and other roadway improvements in San Benito County. It’s just too bad they haven’t succeeded at solving the problem for many years, and now the area is experiencing an infusion of sustained housing growth that will further deteriorate traffic conditions.

For months there has been controversy swirling around the potential advent of High Speed Rail in our community. Many people wish it would not come at all. Others have been hoping for more details about how it will effect Gilroy, which have been lacking until recently.
It is such a complex topic that it is hard to get your mind around. Lots of folks just wish it would go away.

This wishful thinking will not help. And it would be foolish not to prepare for the eventual reality. We need to tell the Gilroy City Council and HSR Board what we think is the best option for our unique situation here in Gilroy. The Merced to San Jose segment is next in line to be built.

High Speed Rail is planning to make a preliminary decision on the Gilroy alignment by August of this year and probably a final decision by the end of 2017. The all-important Environmental Impact Report is due out at that time and our preferred alternative will be the one studied most carefully.

Fortunately the City Council has requested a thorough evaluation of the three alignment options from the standpoint of land use, the environment and economic impacts. The 51-page report can be found on the City’s website as part of the Agenda packet for the May 15th Council meeting. At their meeting next Monday night the Council is expected to vote on our preferred alignment. Here are some considerations:

Eastern Embankment Alternative – It’s easy to think “put it out there and we can ignore it.” But this choice actually draws uses away from downtown, is growth-inducing, would affect the most biological resources and use up the most farmland. Downtown Embankment Alternative – The best thing about this option is that the Union Pacific railroad tracks would also be elevated to the same level as the high-speed rail tracks.

But it would leave a divisive wall downtown, take up twice as much right-of-way width and mean that all the east-west streets would have to be depressed.

Downtown Viaduct Alternative – Would be about 30 feet above street level on posts allowing for visual access. The land underneath could be used for a park, bike path, farmer’s market, or parking. Construction would be much less disruptive. Both downtown alternatives would provide the most connectivity by locating the station just east of our Caltrain station.

At our May 23 meeting more than a dozen members of Gilroy Growing Smarter met to consider this issue. After much discussion, we voted nearly unanimously to support the downtown viaduct (aerial) alternative for Gilroy’s High Speed Rail alignment. We reached this conclusion primarily from the information contained in the May 15 report.

This alternative best supports the objectives of Measure H: preserving farmland and stimulating economic activity downtown. We felt it was important to take the long term view, knowing that the construction period would be difficult, but that the expected result would generate increased demand for office space, retail uses and housing within walking distance of the station.

We felt strongly that the viaduct alternative would be the least disruptive and most beneficial choice.

Is this choice perfect? Of course not! Nothing in life is without tradeoffs. But the downtown viaduct option has the potential of bringing not just passengers, but additional businesses to Gilroy. We are fortunate to be chosen as one of the nine station locations. Let’s urge the Council to support the downtown viaduct and get involved in the implementation measures to protect our community.

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