Salvador Rivera showed up at City Hall Oct. 26 wanting to learn more about the state’s proposed high-speed rail project. The security guard, an Alhambra resident for 40 years, said he missed the previous community forums on the train’s proposed route through the San Gabriel Valley, so he looked forward to attending the open house sponsored by the California High Speed Rail Authority. He wanted to add his take on the region’s transportation needs.
Rivera's house --- the same one where he grew up --- is located on Romona Road, which runs parallel alongside Interstate-10.
"I was thinking about this 20 years ago. You know, every 20 years the population gets bigger and bigger and you're looking for a new mode of transportation," Rivera said. "The freeways are so packed all the time, it's a pain in the butt to get to and from work.
Of couse, he added, building the high speed rail "doesn't necessarily mean it's going to eliminate people from driving, because in California having a car is not only a necessity, it's a lifestyle too."
But Rivera left the gathering disappointed after several audience members took the floor during a question-and-answer session, called the rail project manager a liar and accused the train’s promoters of ignoring the will of local residents.
I think it was dumb. Everybody was against it, not that many people were or it," said Rivera, but "nobody gave another alternative to this railway."
If, he continued, "there's another way we can avoid all the clogged freeways and I have to pay three dollars a gallon for gas, I'd like to see what else is out there."
Another resident, Dan Bednarski, who maintains a blog opposed to the rail project, echoed the sentiments of most of the estimated 10 people who addressed the rail authority representatives during a question-and-answer session that lasted well over an hour.
"Nobody in their right mind will want the rail authority to tear through commercial and industrial businesses during a recession," Bednarski said. In addition, "We can expect many of those businesses would relocate the jobs to other states or countries."
Much of the opposition to the project was spurred by the concern held by many in attendance that the project would ultimately require residents bordering I-10 to make way for the line by giving up their homes.
Mike Zdon, project director for the section of the rail line that will stretch from San Diego to Los Angeles on its way through the Inland Empire, fielded questions from visitors before the formal presentation started and then reminded the audience that the rail project is a process that still offers a lot of time for consideration of public input. He received the brunt of the heated public criticism, though his responses stayed measured and cordial.
City Manager Julio Fuentes addressed the crowd twice. He noted that residents had made an impact on the rail system's plans already, since the authority had scrapped its original option to rip up existing neighborhoods and build next to the freeway. He encouraged residents to stay vigilant and reminded them the city council will further discuss the rail project at its Nov. 8 regular meeting.
Several cities along the alternative routes are taking hard looks at the proposal. An open house was held last week in Rosemead.
Having recently received $715 million from the federal government for a total $4.3 billion in funding, the 800-mile high-speed rail system will connect the San Francisco Bay Area to Greater Los Angeles. The system's electrically-powered trains will initially run from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim through the Central Valley. Later the service will include stops in Sacramento and San Diego, for a total of 24 stops and 800 miles of track.
The authority estimates high-speed trains will travel between the Southland and San Francisco in under 2 hours and 40 minutes, at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. and will interconnect with other transportation alternatives, providing an environmentally friendly option to traveling by plane or car.
The project board is currently considering a handful of design and route options and is expected to decide at its March 3 regular meeting whether to continue plans for an I-10 corridor line through Alhambra.