Almanac

News - April 6, 2011

New high-speed-rail group focuses on Caltrain corridor

by Sandy Brundage

Joining the alphabet soup of groups scrutinizing high-speed rail along the Peninsula is the San Mateo Rail Corridor Partnership, or SMRCP for short.

Advocates say it's meant to fill a void in the discussion by concentrating on high-speed rail within the Caltrain corridor, a topic they say is overlooked by the most visible regional coalition, the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC).

So far, San Mateo, Millbrae, Redwood City, South San Francisco, and Burlingame have signed on to SMRCP. "Some of (the PCC) members oppose the use of the Caltrain corridor, so their focus is on alternative routes, the ridership study, and business plan," said Larry Patterson, director of public works for San Mateo and spokesman for SMRCP.

Its counterpart, the PCC, consists of five elected officials from Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto, Burlingame and Belmont — cities that would be heavily impacted by construction of high-speed rail.

The groups aren't mutually exclusive, according to Mr. Patterson, a view echoed by Burlingame's mayor, Terry Nagel, who represents the only city currently participating in both groups.

"I have consistently urged council members to attend both PCC and the San Mateo-led partnership meetings because I believe the cities along the Caltrain corridor need to look each other in the eye and figure out which forum and what process will help all of us agree on a transportation solution that works for everyone," Ms. Nagel said.

But other members of the consortium wonder why another high-speed rail group is necessary. Menlo Park's mayor, Rich Cline, who recently finished a term as PCC chair, said the other cities were invited "many times over" to join in the pre-existing regional organization, but refused.

"Now, when it seems there is air cover to take a more critical stance, those city leaders come out and ask us to mandate that (high-speed rail) will come up the Caltrain right-of-way?" Mayor Cline said. "I just feel like they are missing the point. Why predetermine a route when we don't have the proper data and we have no commitment that we will ever get it?"

Ms. Nagel said the point is that the Caltrain corridor segment proposal is moving ahead.

"As long as there's a live project that they're forging ahead on, we need to be at the table. That doesn't mean we aren't looking for alternatives," she said. "A lot of things could happen to derail that project; there's a million reasons that this might not happen. But right now it's going forward and has a lot of political force. It's smart for the cities to get involved."

Down the road, the two groups might consolidate. It has been all too easy, according to Ms. Nagel, for larger cities like San Francisco and San Jose to divide and conquer their smaller neighbors along the Peninsula.

"Either you get what people decide they're going to give you, or you go forward and get what you want," she said. "Politically it's really dumb if we don't unite."

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