High-speed rail hearing in La Jolla set for Tuesday

Public hearings will be held in San Diego County this week as state officials take comments on proposed routes for the southernmost leg of California’s proposed $40 billion high-speed train network.

The hearings will be held from 3-7 p.m. on:

— Tuesday, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive, in La Jolla;

— Wednesday, at the Ramada Limited Hotel at the San Diego Airport, 1403 Rosecrans Street, near Shelter Island; and

— Thursday, at the Escondido Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., in Escondido.

The state plans to route 220 mile-per-hour trains from Los Angeles to San Diego via Ontario, Riverside, and Escondido, with trains making the trip from LA’s Union Station to downtown San Diego in one hour and 18 minutes starting just 10 years from now. Existing Amtrak service down the beaches of San Diego County takes nearly three hours between the same cities.

The leg from San Diego to Los Angeles would bypass the crowded Amtrak and Coaster tracks along the beaches of North County. The existing service on the coastal tracks would continue.

The state plans to build high speed train tracks between L.A. and Anaheim as top priority, followed by a connection from L.A. on through Lancaster and the San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco and Sacramento. The L.A.- Riverside-San Diego leg would likely be funded after the first two legs, but officials note that construction money could come in fast enough to allow all three legs to be built simultaneously.

Rail officials stress that no plans are anything more than pencil lines on maps, and this week’s hearing are designed to hear from the public on concerns and preferences. But those maps show new grade-separated tracks to parallel Interstate 5 and the existing Coaster/Amtrak line from downtown north, past a possible new travel center at Lindbergh Field, and tracks up Rose Canyon to a proposed passenger station near Noble Drive at Genesee Avenue, near University Town Center.

The state proposes several possible new rail alignments northeast across industrial areas and canyons on Mira Mesa, to hook up with Interstate 15 at Scripps Ranch. The state’s first draft of maps includes several possible alignments in and near Carroll Canyon, north of Marine Corps Air Base Miramar.

Across North County, the tracks would be atop or next to the just-widened Interstate 15 past Escondido, Fallbrook and Rainbow. Two possible alignments and station locations are listed in Escondido.

The rail tracks are tentatively planned to be mounted on concrete columns above Interstate 15 near all of the way across North County to the Riverside County line, except for two places where the freeway crosses steep hills and deep canyons, at Pala Mesa Village and Rainbow.

There, the rail tracks might veer off the freeway right of way and dive into a pair of new tunnels. Some orchards and houses might be lost there, according to the state’s first draft of maps.

After crossing into Riverside County, stops would likely be near the 15/215 split in the Temecula Valley, and at UC Riverside, Ontario International Airport, and in the City of Industry near Diamond Bar. Final routes across the Inland Empire have not been determined, and the tracks could loop as far northeast as San Bernardino.

Another proposal would bypass both San Bernardino and Riverside, and going directly between Ontario and Murrieta via Interstate 15. Three routes for crossing the San Gabriel valley between Los Angeles and Pomona are also under study.

This week’s hearings will take public testimony on the proposed routes, as the state hears evidence on what issues and alternative routes must be studied during the preparation of an environmental impact statement.

The first leg of the California network will be funded with $9.95 billion in bond funds approved by voters, and a sizeable chunk of the $8 billion that Congress has allocated for nationwide high-speed rail seed money as a part of President Barack Obama’s commitment to high speed rail. Congress is expected to add another $1.5 billion in economic stimulus moneys as well.

The federal government has identified eight city-pairs and corridors across the country as likely recipients of the federal money, but other states are seeking to get a piece of the federal pie. The President has said California is at the head of the line because of the commitment of local money

and advanced state of planning, as well as the fact that California is the only

state proposing travel speeds of 220 miles an hour.

Nevada officials are proposing a privately-funded high speed track between Las Vegas and the outskirts of San Bernardino, and are investigating the possibility of bringing it across the mountains to plug into the California network.

Arizona and several other states are setting up planning efforts to investigate building high-speed rail lines between Southern California and Phoenix and Tucson.