Much to the dismay of those who oppose various facets of the proposed high-speed rail project or the project itself, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is moving forward with its analysis of the routes the highly debated bullet train is expected to take in Southern California.
The authority unanimously voted during a lengthy meeting at the Holiday Inn in Burbank Thursday morning to identify which routes should be studied further.
Authority chairman Dan Richard reiterated to the roughly 100 people in attendance — mainly residents of Acton, Agua Dulce, Kagel Canyon, Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills and Sunland-Tujunga — that the board’s decision was to determine which routes needed to be analyzed in greater detail and not to set in stone the train’s path.
“What we’re saying to communities that, for the last several years have faced uncertainty, as four or more different routes have been looked at, is to tell them ‘Well, we can’t say it’s 100%, [but] this is where we’re focusing our attention,’” Richard said. “Now that we’re focusing our attention there, we have to be very, very detailed about understanding specific environmental impacts and impacts on those communities.”
The section of the route that has received the most criticism has been the Palmdale-to-Burbank stretch, which has gone through several iterations. The authority opted to further analyze what is called the SR-14 Alternative, which is a 38.6-mile path that, for the most part, follows the 14 Freeway.
The railway is proposed to be at-grade when it leaves Palmdale and transition to be mostly underground through Acton and Agua Dulce. The route deviates from the 14 Freeway before reaching Santa Clarita and heads south through Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument toward Hollywood Burbank Airport via an underground path.
Although most of the route will be located underground, the plans propose to have portions of the railway either at-grade or elevated, which many Acton and Agua Dulce residents told authority members during nearly 2½ half hours of public testimony they were against.
Pam Wolter, treasurer of the Acton Town Council, pleaded with board members to look after her community and have the entire railway underground.
Wolter said the proposed elevated portion of the railway would be right next to Vasquez High School — which in 2016 was renovated with much-needed amenities — and would be detrimental to the students and the community.
“Come on, guys. I need you here,” she told the authority. “I need you supporting Acton … I am on the team to make this correct for Acton and Agua Dulce.”
On the other hand, Kagel Canyon resident Kelly Decker said she was not happy that all of the proposed routes for the Palmdale-Burbank stretch go through the Angeles National Forest, which she thinks would be detrimental to the area.
The authority had been studying two other routes for that section — called E1 and E2 — which were proposed to go under the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to a greater extent than the SR-14 Alternative.
Decker added that she would rather see the money that would be spent on the high-speed rail project go toward the wildfire efforts across the state.
“The state has a lot more serious issues that it needs to tackle,” she said. “We have a water shortage and wildfires that are constant and larger than we’ve ever seen before in history. Those are priorities, not a $100-billion project that we have no money to fund and no one needs.”
The two other routes — Burbank to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Anaheim — have no proposed alternatives.
Michelle Boehm, the Southern California regional director of the project, has said the Burbank-to-Los Angeles route is a critical section that helps complete the entire project.
That proposed 14-mile stretch, which would start on the north end at Hollywood Burbank Airport and end at Los Angeles Union Station, is planned to share the right-of-way used by Metrolink and will mostly be located at-grade.