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October 22, 2021

Bullet train design ‘start of the discussion’

Gilroy city officials this week were given a clearer picture of
what a high-speed rail station there might look like. At least
three of them didn’t like what they saw.
Gilroy city officials this week were given a clearer picture of what a high-speed rail station there might look like. At least three of them didn’t like what they saw.

Several weeks after as visit from the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s CEO – and three months after giving the organization a vote of no confidence – Gilroy City councilmen Perry Woodward, Peter Leroe-Muñoz and Mayor Al Pinheiro took issue with CHSRA renderings of potential high-speed rail stations in downtown and east Gilroy.

“It’s like they were drawn by someone who has never been to Gilroy,” Woodward said.

The renderings provide a glimpse of where new parking structures would need to be built and at what height the train would enter and pass through town.

The designs show plans for constructing a track at grade or in an aerial fashion, as well as a trench option for the downtown design. A trench option for the east Gilroy location was not included in plans in the City Council agenda packet.

A study session concerning the at-grade proposal will be held Monday at the Gilroy City Council meeting.

With an at-grade design, the train would roll into town at ground-level, parallel to the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks. City streets running perpendicular to the tracks would be extended by overpasses spanning above the tracks.

An aerial design would elevate the tracks between Sixth and 10th streets downtown, according to the CHSRA drawings.

The trench option would position the tracks below ground level over a two-mile stretch.

Woodward said the trench option was the only feasible design, adding the at-grade design would “fundamentally change how we’ve planned for traffic in this city.” He called the aerial track design “totally unacceptable,” and said any overpasses associated with the at-grade design would be “unsightly.”

“I don’t think they expected us to say, ‘Gee, that’s OK,’ ” he said. “This is just the start of the discussion.”

Woodward said CHSRA CEO Roelof Van Ark told him the CHSRA would pay for traffic bridges built for the at-grade design, but any trenching costs would have to be covered by the city.

“We don’t have the where-with-all in our budget to do trenching,” Woodward said. “It just doesn’t seem plausible to me that building all these structures would be more cost-effective than digging a two-mile trench.”

Woodward said officials from a Gilroy and Morgan Hill high-speed rail task force were scheduled to meet with Van Ark again Jan. 25.

The task force is made up of Pinheiro, Woodward, City Administrator Tom Haglund and Morgan Hill representatives – Councilman Greg Sellers, Mayor Steve Tate and City Manager Ed Tewes.

Woodward said he expected “intense conversation” to occur.

Pinheiro said Thursday he had only looked briefly at the design documents but wasn’t excited about what he saw.

“There’s too much to be done,” Pinheiro said.

Pinheiro said street closures that would be necessary to construct the station downtown would create problems.

“It’s very hard to even conceive all that has to be done,” he said. “It’s way too early to even conceive what (the station) is going to look like. We’ll cross that as we go on.”

Pinheiro said he wasn’t sure downtown was the best place to build the station.

“I have no qualms about putting it in the east part of town,” Pinheiro said.

Leroe-Muñoz, who was elected and supported the downtown alignment in November, said he saw problems with the CHSRA’s at-grade design.

“I think it poses a lot of complications,” he said. “We’re going to have to keep working. It’s not a finalized plan by any means. We can work through this.”

Leroe-Muñoz suggested possibly sending traffic underneath the at-grade tracks instead of building overpasses. He maintained there was still a lot left to accomplish.

“There are other options we should look at,” he said. “We’re going to have to work until we can find a viable design.”

The documents come less than a month after Van Ark met with the task force to discuss concerns about Gilroy’s inclusion in the project.

Van Ark said the CHSRA would pay for a basic station and any parking structures, and would also submit a noise study to the task force.

Pinheiro said Thursday he did not believe a study had been submitted as of yet.

The high-speed rail project is expected to cost $45 billion and span 800 miles with routes from Sacramento to San Diego, connections to the Bay Area and a major stop in Gilroy.

In October, the Gilroy City Council delivered a 23-point resolution to the CHSRA stating information from rail officials had been “frustratingly limited and inadequate.”

The council voted 4-3 to send a vote of no confidence to the CHSRA. Councilmembers Tucker, Dion Bracco, Bob Dillon and former Councilman Craig Gartman voted in favor of the no-confidence vote. Woodward, Peter Arellano, and Pinheiro voted against it.

Tucker said Thursday she had received the design documents but would withhold comment because she had not had a chance to look over them.

Attempts to reach Bracco, Dillon and Arellano were not successful as of press time.

Communication between the two sides has grown better with time, Pinheiro said. He said he was not surprised at how quickly the CHSRA delivered drawings after the documents were requested following a meeting with Van Ark in December.

“This was a pretty fast turnaround,” Pinheiro said.

Improvements in communication between city and rail officials could improve, he added.

“I feel much better about being able to connect,” Pinheiro said. “However, I think there’s still too much that needs to be done. We must protect our community, be the impacts financial or aesthetic.”

He added, “Nobody wants this in their back yard, but it’s going to be in someone’s back yard, and we need to do it with the least possible impact.”

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