Wednesday, December 24, 2014

California High Speed Rail Litigation: Support for the Project in the Form of a Recent Federal Ruling

A ruling came down on December 15th, which has further eased the way for High Speed Rail to move forward in California. The United States Surface Transportation Board ruled in favor of the High Speed Rail Authority when it decided that the federal government’s actions override the state law invoked in lawsuits against the project.  Specifically, opponents filed suit in several jurisdictions on the basis of the Environmental law known as CEQA, a set of state regulations, which has had the effect of delaying construction on the Fresno-Bakersfield leg of the project.

The High Speed Rail Authority, as agent of the Surface Transportation Board, is empowered by the federal agency to proceed with construction of the HSR in California. The Board ruled that CEQA, as a state law, cannot be used to impose restrictions on the High Speed Rail that result in significant delays in it’s progress. This is because the federal government trumps state laws and regulations. This ruling may set a precedent that can be applied to any future lawsuits against the HSR based on CEQA, thereby speeding up High Speed Rail construction even more.

Any action on the part of the court that eases the pressure of time constraints will be a boost for the High Speed Rail Authority.  As the Authority seeks contractors for the first few legs of Rail Construction, it’s also facing the difficult process of property acquisition, with only 1/5 of the land parcels needed for construction of the Fresno-Madera portion of the project ready for contractors as of November.

There are also cases still pending in the California Supreme Court, both attempting to overturn appellate decisions concerning Proposition 1A, the bond measure funding the High Speed Rail that voters approved in 2008. The original lawsuits claim that the High Speed Rail Authority is in violation of Proposition 1A, because the costs estimates as well as timing concerns for the project have been amended significantly since passage of the law.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Metro Gold Line Update: Testing Starts on Foothill Extension, Eastside Extension Still Awaits Route Decision

The Gold Line, which is a Metro light-rail line that horseshoes from Pasadena at one end to East Los Angeles on the other, has been in the news a lot lately. On December 9th, testing began on the tracks of the first phase of the Foothill Extension, from Pasadena to Azusa, and which will continue in the second phase to Montclair. This phase has less than a year left until completion. Testing on the project checks that a train can pass safely on the newly constructed tracks.

Recently a study was conducted at the behest of the San Bernardino Associated Governments, which assessed possible public transportation routes that would bring travelers to the struggling Ontario Airport. The study found 6 potential routes to the airport, only one of which included bus service, and one of the rail routes suggested would be a continuation of the Gold Line. The estimated costs however are extremely high, and the study does point out that to warrant building a light rail connecting to the airport, the number of annual passengers at the Ontario Airport would have to more than triple.

Finally, the big news on the Gold Line is the hearing in front of the LA County MTA  on the Draft EIR concerning Phase 2 of the Eastside Gold Line Extension. The report set forth two possible routes extending the Gold Line either to Whittier or El Monte, and the board was expected to pick one or the other. Instead, the board asked for a further study to be done that explores the possibility of constructing both routes. The new “technical study” will most likely be done in a few years, and upon its submission to the Board a decision will be made on which of the two routes will be chosen, or if both, which one will be built first. The anticipated completion of the Eastside Gold Line extension is in 20 years.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

California High Speed Rail Update

California’s High Speed rail project is steadily moving forward thanks to the state Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal in October from the project’s opponents, and eminent domain proceedings are underway. 

The Sacramento Business Journal reports that eminent domain cases concerning 36 land parcels are pending in the state superior court. These cases have been brought by the state to negotiate with property owners whose land is necessary for construction of the first leg to begin: 

“Owners of six of those parcels have since settled with the state. Of the 30 that remain, 10 are now pending in courthouses in Fresno and Madera counties. None have gone to trial yet.”

This October the California Supreme Court sided with the High Speed Rail Authority when it rejected a request by project opponents to hear their case.  The significance of this move by the state’s highest court is that the Appeal court’s decision to allow the project to proceed will endure. The California High Speed Rail Authority has taken the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case as a gesture of support, while opponents feel that the project proceeding in its current form creates a dangerous precedent. This speaks to the crux of the case against the High Speed Rail, which was based on allegations that the project had veered too far from the initial bond measure approved by California voters. Although there are still lawsuits pending, construction on the first leg of the high speed rail is slated for the beginning of the year, and will be able to continue as planned. The head of the Rail Authority, Jeff Morales, was quoted as saying that construction on the Fresno-Bakersfield stretch will quicken considerably as a result of the high court’s stance. 

Meanwhile, residents of San Diego are frustrated about the lack of information and concrete plans surrounding construction of the southernmost portion of the project.