Residents, homeowners, public officials and business owners can begin submitting comments on the draft environmental study for the High Speed Rail section that is slated to pass through the South Valley.
The state High Speed Rail Authority released the draft Environmental Impact Report for a 90-mile stretch of the San Jose to Merced section of the line on April 24. A minimum 45-day public comment period will continue June 8; during this time the public can submit questions, comments and concerns about the EIR by email, mail, telephone or via a series of upcoming hearings and open house meetings.
The San Jose to Merced section of the HSR would connect Silicon Valley to the Central Valley with a reliable high-speed travel option, according to HSRA staff. The 90-mile segment studied in the EIR goes from Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara to Carlucci Road in Merced County. The segment will travel through or near the communities of Santa Clara, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Los Banos. The project includes high-speed rail stations at San Jose Diridon and in Gilroy and a maintenance facility south or southeast of Gilroy.
With the release of the San Jose to Merced section EIR draft, the HSRA is on track to complete environmental certification for the full phase 1 system by the federally mandated 2022 deadline, according to HSRA staff. The final EIR document is expected to be issued in 2021.
The draft EIR submitted by HSRA staff studied four “alternative alignment” options from San Jose to Merced. The document lists the potential environmental impacts from each alignment as well as ideas on how project designers and builders could mitigate those impacts. The EIR also considered the impact of not building the HSR route at all.
The HSRA’s preferred alignment alternative is “Alternative 4,” which would take the bullet train through the downtown areas of both Morgan Hill and Gilroy, along the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
The EIR draft document noted, “While alternative four would potentially have the greatest impact on emergency vehicle response times, this could be mitigated by the authority working with local jurisdictions to construct and operate new fire stations and install new responder equipment at existing stations.”
The HSRA’s alternative four EIR draft proposes a bullet train station in downtown Gilroy. HSR street crossings would be at-grade at intersections in Morgan Hill and Gilroy. This would require the authority to build new high-security crossing gates to regulate vehicle traffic at these crossings.
HSRA staff identified alternative four as the preferred alignment based on a balance of the expected impacts, according to the EIR draft.
One drawback to alternative four, according to the EIR draft, is that it is the option that would create the most noise impact for residents and businesses within earshot.
From the Gilroy station, the local HSR route would continue southeast to Merced County by tunneling under the mountains along Pacheco Pass, according to HSRA staff.
“With the release of this first environmental document in Northern California, we are continuing to show progress on every mile of the statewide system,” said Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “We look forward to hearing from the communities along the route to ensure our project provides a clean, next-generation travel option while improving local quality of life.”
The authority’s preferred San Jose to Merced alignment will cost about $16.5 billion in 2018 dollars. Statewide, the cost to complete the 800-mile system has ballooned many times since voters approved a bond to fund a portion of HSR in 2008. When complete, the HSR will carry commuters from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours.
The High Speed Rail Authority will host the following opportunities to hear from and comment directly to bullet train officials about the draft EIR for the San Jose to Merced section. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related stay-at-home orders, meetings will likely be conducted virtually:
• May 11 open house, San Jose City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose
• May 14 open house, Gilroy Veterans Memorial Hall, 74 W. Sixth Street
• May 18 open house, Los Banos Community Center, 645 Seventh Street, Los Banos
• May 27 public hearing, Santa Clara County Government Center, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose.
Members of the public can submit comment without attending the meetings:
• On the HSRA website at hsr.ca.gov
• Via email to [email protected] with the subject line “San Jose to Merced Draft EIR/EIS Comment”
• By mail to: Attn: San Jose to Merced: Draft EIR/EIS, California High Speed Rail Authority, 100 Paseo de San Antonio, Suite 300, San Jose, CA 95113.