It could be the largest infrastructure project in the United States — the first high-speed rail system in the country — and it’s expected to come to Burbank.
But high-speed officials are grappling with options to either build the tracks around the Angeles National Forest or under it.
On Monday, officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority were at the Buena Vista Branch Library to pitch multiple conceptual alternatives for the bullet-train section running from the Palmdale Transportation Center to a proposed station near the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Burbank City Manager Mark Scott, looking over one of the video animations of a proposed route, noting that it has the potential to make the airport the best transportation hub in the state.
That route, a 45-mile line proposed years ago, would follow along the curving path of the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway. It was refined based on public feedback received earlier this year, officials said, moving the path farther from the Lake Palmdale Dam, for example, and adjusting where it crosses the freeway in Acton.
An alternative through what is called the “east corridor” was developed after feedback called for a more direct route, officials said. It would cut a 35-mile path from Palmdale to Burbank by tunneling under the national forest, with three possible approaches to Burbank.
Two of those approaches call for tunnels under Shadow Hills, but attorney Bill Eick, a board member of Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn., said his organization will do whatever it can to oppose those routes.
“It’s a late-to-the-party proposal — not well thought out — that is going to cause enormous damage,” Eick said after submitting feedback at an open-house meeting on Monday.
He said he is afraid that the tunneling would disturb the landscape and water table throughout the national forest and on private property in the area. He also questioned the feasibility of the tunnels.
But Richard Carney, project manager for the Palmdale-to-Burbank section, said going underground through the national forest is feasible and would prevent a lot of disruption to the natural resources on the surface.
He said it may also require the proposed Burbank station to be underground, but it’s one of several options for the public to consider.
“We need to put these things out there for people to give us feedback,” Carney said.
Michelle Boehm, Southern California regional director for the authority, said the point of the community meetings is to establish “a back-and-forth process” that she said is important “in order to build the best possible project.”
“As you would imagine, those [communities] that are in the direct conceptual routes are concerned,” Boehm said, but she added that the process is meant to show the authority’s “flexibility ... and willingness to listen and be creative as we move forward.”
Boehm said it’s important to create a transparent process leading up to the development of the project’s environmental impact report, expected to be in draft form toward the end of 2015. Throughout the process, the public will be able to comment on the plans.
A final report on the project’s environmental impacts is anticipated in 2017, with construction slated to begin in 2018. The bullet train could be operational by 2022 from Burbank to Merced. Then service from Burbank to San Francisco in under three hours is expected to be available by 2029.
For more information about the Palmdale-to-Burbank section and links to video animations of the proposed routes, go to www.hsr.ca.gov. Then search for “Palmdale to Burbank.”