Public provides input on high-speed rail

The high-speed rail line proposed between San Diego and San Francisco drew some skeptics, among them some La Jollans, to an open house last week.

“I probably won’t live long enough to see it,” said Dan Allen, who chaired a La Jolla Town Council Transit Committee that died for lack of interest. He was among those at a gathering on Oct. 13 hosted by transportation officials to establish a public dialogue on a long-term, $45 billion plan to build an 800-mile, high-speed train in segments between San Diego and San Francisco.

Speaking about what would be the first “bullet” train system in the United States, Allen said it would be dissimilar to existing systems in Japan and Europe, which he’s ridden.

“They have an established network of transit systems — buses, trolleys, trains, subways — in cities to connect with high-speed trains,” he said. “I just don’t see how they can justify this, unless they also build a local network of connecting trains.”

Deborah Knight of Friends of Rose Canyon said she wasn’t opposed to the idea of the bullet train, just to its present preferred alternative alignment through the canyon.

“In general, I’m in favor of transit,” she said. “But I think it’s really important that they not destroy Rose Canyon Park, and that is what this project would do. There’s one thing you can’t replace — open space parks. You can’t rebuild those or put them somewhere else.”

Knight added she’d like to see officials reconsider an alternative alignment that was studied a couple of years ago running down Interstate 15 to Qualcomm Stadium.

“It’s very important they do a full study on that,” she said.

Bob Barto of La Jolla Shores was just plain skeptical about the whole concept. “They’re trying to hide what they’re doing locally, they just say, ‘We’re investigating,’ ” he said, adding that if the train were to come through, he’d like to see it go straight down I-15 to Qualcomm. “That would be ideal,” he said.

A statewide high-speed rail transit project is the result of the Proposition 1A ballot initiative passed by voters last fall. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has proposed the University City area as one of three stops in San Diego County, with the other two in Escondido and Lindbergh Field.

One proposed route enters a tunnel in Carroll Canyon near Interstate 805, travels underground to an underground station at University Towne Center and exits the tunnel into Rose Canyon.

The second route would enter a tunnel at Miramar Road near I-805 and otherwise follow the same path.

Upon arriving, guests at the meeting at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center were greeted with a several-minute slide presentation pitching the high-speed rail concept with opening remarks from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A case was made that high-speed rail is a proven success elsewhere in the world and that it is less polluting than more traditional transit systems, as well as being cost-effective.

Linda Culp of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the county’s regional transportation planning agency, said SANDAG has a favorable view of exploring the concept of high-speed trains.

“You can’t build enough freeways or enough runways for aviation,” she said. “The high-speed rail is one more alternative to driving by yourself.”

The state has put its weight behind the project, asking that any federal stimulus funds coming to San Diego be directed toward the bullet train. SANDAG had asked for $377 million to improve the coastal rail line between North County and San Diego, but when the request worked its way through state offices, it was not passed to Washington.