Lawsuit challenges high-speed rail project

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Four environmental groups and two cities today filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court challenging the California High Speed Rail Authority’s recent decision to lay track over Pacheco Pass, rather than going with the Altamont Pass option preferred by the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit isn’t likely to directly affect this November’s Proposition 1, the $10 billion bond measure that would allow work to begin on the San Francisco-Anaheim high-speed rail project. Yet the language in the bond measure could be updated to include new fiscal oversight and other provisions if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs Assembly Bill 3034, which this week broke through a logjam in the Assembly and appears likely to win Senate approval next week.

The lawsuit was filed by the Planning and Conservation League, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, California Rail Foundation, Bay Rail Alliance, and the cities of Atherton and Menlo Park.
A press release from CRF says, “The environmental and transit groups advocate a well-planned, cost- effective, and environmentally sensitive high-speed rail system in California. They want high-speed trains along the Altamont route, to help commuters from the Central Valley and Sacramento, who currently clog up Interstates 80 and 580. This route would divert millions of regional trips annually to electrified rail, yielding extremely significant air quality, greenhouse gas reduction, and energy savings benefits.”

CHSRA staffers and board members argued that Pacheco was a cheaper, faster route that eliminated the need for a costly and logically difficult bay crossing to reach San Francisco. South Bay political leaders also threatened to oppose the project if Altamont was chosen. Yet CHRSA is also working on a regional rail connection over Altamont that would eventually tie into the high-speed rail system, which is at least a decade away from being operational.