The California State Assembly and State Senate an initial $8 billion of spending last week for the purposes of constructing the initial leg of the high-speed rail network in the Central Valley.
Proponents of high-speed rail believe it has the potential to revitalize California’s struggling economy while decreasing carbon emissions from cars and airplanes traveling along the popular corridor from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
Opponents claim high-speed rail is a waste of money and a construction nightmare that will decrease land-values and harm nearby businesses.
The Peninsula itself is strongly divided on the issue. Some such as Assemblyman Rich Gordon are optimistic about high-speed rail’s ability to reignite economic growth.
Gordon referred to the bill as an early investment in California’s rail system that will benefit California’s infrastructure.
Gordon stressed the benefits the Peninsula will receive both in terms of increased Caltrain funding as well as the new proposal to electrify the existing tracks rather than building new tracks to accommodate the new trains.
Nonetheless, Gordon acknowledged it would likely be decades before California sees the envisioned high-speed rail network.
On the other side of the debate, Belmont Mayor Dave Warden has been an active critic of high-speed rail project since the get-go.
Warden said he agrees with Sen. Joe Simitian who voted against the project. "Building tracks in the Central Valley with low ridership, which won't even be high-speed rail is a bad plan," said Warden.
He added that no funding source has been identified for the remaining 80-90 percent of the project.
"Electrification of Caltrain is good, but now that we've taken the carrot, we'll also get the stick!" said Warden.
Belmont Councilmember Coralin Feierbach also does not agree with the Legislature's stance on high-speed rail.
"Simply put, I don't agree with the vote. I did't vote for the high-speed rail bond when it came to the voters and I think there must have been a lot of pressure from the various groups for the Democrats to have voted for it," Feierbach said.
Other leaders such as San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim have a cautious but optimistic approach.
Lim stressed that rational dialogue is more effective than the strategy of lawsuits employed by the City of Palo Alto and the Town of Atherton.
By working with the High Speed Rail Authority, Lim believes the City of San Mateo was successful in gaining approval of a ‘Blended System’ whereby the high-speed trains run on existing Caltrain tracks that will be upgraded to serve the new purpose.
“By building within the existing footprint of the Caltrain tracks, we can reduce the property devaluation and noise pollution,” said Lim.
Of the $8 billion spending bill, $500 million will go towards improvements and modernizations for Caltrain, including more funding for suicide prevention initiatives.
As a result, Lim claims, even if the high-speed rail project goes no further, the peninsula will still be better off as a result of the approved spending.
“As Americans, we all want this project to succeed, but regardless; this funding will be great for Caltrain and for the Peninsula.”
For now, the high-speed rail still faces challenges within the Central Valley, where it faces lawsuits from Farmers Associations concerned about property damage. Many farmers are currently seeking an injunction that would stall proposed construction.