High-speed rail to San Francisco gets environmental clearance
The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board last week approved the final environmental impact report for the bullet train's proposed route between San Jose and San Francisco.
What's happening: Thursday's vote means that 420 miles of the train's 500-mile route from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area have cleared environmental hurdles, allowing rail officials to "begin advanced design work," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Details: Under the approved plan, the high-speed train would share electrified Caltrain tracks between San Jose's Diridon Station and the Fourth and King Street station in San Francisco.
- Eventually, the San Francisco station would move to the Salesforce Transit Center.
- There are also plans for an SFO/Millbrae stop.
- The route could open as soon as 2033.
The intrigue: In earlier plans, rail officials considered laying separate high-speed tracks through the Peninsula, "but that effort was abandoned years ago due to opposition from homeowners in the affluent region," the Chronicle notes.
- Speeds from San Jose to San Francisco could reach 110 mph, which is faster than Caltrain's 79 mph.
- When traveling through less populated parts of the state, the train is expected to reach upwards of 220 mph.
Why it matters: The project broke ground in 2015 in the Central Valley. But for the bullet train to fulfill its promise of connecting people throughout the state to higher-paying jobs, it will need to complete sections to major cities, including SF in the north and LA in the south.
Yes, but: While the environmental approval shows positive momentum, the project still faces major challenges. Namely, as the Chronicle writes: "California hasn't figured out where it will get up to $25 billion needed to build the San Francisco and Silicon Valley bullet train extensions."
- Without more funding, the project, which skeptics have dubbed "the train to nowhere," would likely be constrained to the state's interior, running from Bakersfield to Merced.
Driving the news: In 2008, California voters approved almost $10 billion to build a bullet train that could transport people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours.
- Initially, the bullet trains were expected to start running in 2020, with a project price tag of $33 billion.
- Now, 2029 might be the earliest the trains leave their Central Valley stations, and estimated costs have ballooned to at least $105 billion.
What's next: Fundraising.
- Currently, California is seeking an additional $8 billion in federal funding, which could happen given the passage of President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill last year that set aside $108 billion for public transportation.
- The state could also go back to California voters to approve more funding, the Chronicle said.
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