After many months planning to build California’s HSR route down from the Central Valley towards Los Angeles, the Authority has now physically reversed course and decided to build the track up to the north instead, towards San Jose.
Critics of the project have cited the high costs of tunneling through the Tehachapi Mountains for the train to pass through, which is a valid concern when building the track to Los Angeles. On the whole however, I see this move towards the north as a net positive not only for high speed rail, but for all of California.
The sooner a viable segment of the railroad gets operational, riders can experience the difference having HSR makes over driving. The proposed route from Madera to San Jose makes a lot of sense, and to use startup terms, is a good “Minimum Viable Product” for riders to use high speed rail, and for developers to build around it. It will make a solid demonstration of the efficiencies and economic gains such a transit system produces, by alleviating the congested traffic and soaring housing costs in the San Jose area.
How? Right now there are a lot of people who want to live in the South Bay Area, and that number will only increase by 2025, when this segment of the railway is expected to operate. Many people want to live in this part of California because of all the jobs here. Unfortunately, when combined with a limited supply of housing, that causes the cost of housing to go up, as we have seen in the past decades. There’s only so much space for housing in the South Bay, and so far, local governments and neighborhood associations have generally expressed an unwillingness to build upwards, with high-density residential towers.
That leaves horizontal expansion as the alternative to increasing housing supply. However, this has been done too - we saw it in the period of San Jose’s “urban sprawl” as it expanded to touch all the neighboring towns. Beyond that, the more expansion is done horizontally, the more people need to drive to get to work. Our South Bay roadways are very congested as it is, even without more population growth.
High speed rail linking San Jose to communities further south will alleviate significant amounts of this pressure. Rather than everyone trying to cram into the San Jose area, people can live further south, towards Madera. Housing is more affordable and plentiful further south, allowing Californians to have more space and save more money. Traditionally, the difficulty with moving south was the long drive to and from work in the South Bay. But having an HSR connection between San Jose and Madera solves that problem and is more environmentally friendly to boot.
The timing of HSR’s move is also fortuitous, as it will now more closely coincide with the long-awaited expansion of the BART system down from Fremont, through Milpitas, and finally to the San Jose Diridon Station. Eventually, BART, HSR, and Caltrain can all connect at that station, making it a sort of “Grand Central Station” of the West Coast - a landmark accomplishment in California’s transportation history.
Originally published at Michael's Side.