Planners want to discard Grapevine route for rail project
Planners of California’s high-speed rail project want to discard a more direct route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield over the Grapevine and continue development of a sweeping dogleg through Palmdale and Lancaster.
Though the option was ruled out in 2005, the Interstate 5-Grapevine corridor was revived for further study last May after state officials and some transportation experts thought it would save billions in construction costs and up to 12 minutes of travel time between Los Angeles and the train’s ultimate destination: the Bay Area.
But a new study by the California High Speed Rail Authority now indicates that the longer, more tunnel-heavy route that turns east from the Central Valley through the Tehachapi Mountains to the Antelope Valley is the better option.
Though the Grapevine route would be slightly less expensive, researchers said the $15-billion-plus Palmdale alignment would serve one of the fastest-growing areas in Los Angeles County, have fewer environmental effects and allow planners more flexibility in route selection through the mountains.
Because of changes in the length of both routes, researchers from Parsons Brinckerhoff and Hatch Mott MacDonald, two of the project’s main contractors, concluded that the time savings for the Grapevine corridor would be only three to five minutes, far less than the initial estimate of 10 to 12 minutes.
The study also says that both routes have similar earthquake risks and that less tunneling would be required for the Palmdale alignment than originally thought.
At its meeting Thursday in Los Angeles, the agency’s board of directors is scheduled to decide whether to eliminate the Grapevine route from further consideration. The authority’s staff has recommended that the option be shelved.
Palmdale officials and L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley, praised the report, saying the Palmdale route made the most sense for the high desert cities the project would serve.
“With the Palmdale Airport, High Desert Corridor, a potential inland port and future DesertXpress [rail] connection to Las Vegas, the Antelope Valley is poised to become the new transportation crossroads of Southern California,” Antonovich said.
The Tejon Ranch, which owns 422 square miles of land in the Grapevine area, has strongly opposed consideration of the I-5 route. The ranch is developing a planned community along the interstate and has said its $75-million investment in the project could be threatened by a rail corridor. It also has a business park at the base of the Grapevine that could be damaged by a route on either side of the highway, the company says.
Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis, a co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, said the justifications for dropping the Grapevine route appear to be flawed. The authority, she noted, has said that up to 15 minutes could be cut from the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco trip by going over the Grapevine.
Though the cost of the Grapevine corridor was once estimated to be far less than the Palmdale alignment, Alexis said, the rail authority is now claiming that it is almost the same. One of the original estimates for the alternative was $6.6 billion.
“Their methodology is all over the map,” Alexis said.
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