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Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale strike deal over rail funds

Original post made on Aug 11, 2021

In a move that they hope will boost their efforts to redesign Caltrain rail crossings, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale have struck a deal for splitting the $700 million that they are entitled to under Measure B.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 1:16 PM

Comments (14)

Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2021 at 2:05 pm

Jim is a registered user.

So the smallest and richest of the three communities, which is attempting to fix the least of that area's traffic impacts will get half of the funds. And Sunnyvale, representing more population, taxpayers, and commuters than the other two cities combined, only gets a quarter of the funds.

Brilliant. And typical.


Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 11, 2021 at 3:40 pm

JR is a registered user.

This is more than enough money for two pedestrian / bike bridges in South Palo Alto (one close to Charleston, one close to Meadow / Loma Verde) and improvements to the Cal Ave tunnel (maybe replace it with an overpass). Not one dime of this should be spent studying or building an elevated freeway for trains. With climate change approaching, we need to encourage people to get out of cars, which means not wasting money on infrastructure to support polluting motor vehicles.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2021 at 3:56 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

This seems like a very equitable solution. The money can only be spent for rail crossings, not other transportation projects, so basing the money on the number of crossings each city must deal with is a good solution.


Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2021 at 4:26 pm

Jim is a registered user.

Jeremy+Erman, you're literally arguing that the money be spent in the way that generates the least bang for the buck and does the absolute least to reduce regional congestion.

If there was sufficient money to fund all projects, that approach would make sense. With less than half the money needed to fund the proposed projects, it doesn't, not at all.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2021 at 6:21 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Jim, with all respect, I don't know what you're talking about. What does this have to do with "congestion?"

The article says there are $700 million dollars available from Measure B for grade separation at railroad crossings in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. There are eight crossings between the three cities. Officials in the three cities have agreed to split the money equally between each city's share of the crossings, so Palo Alto gets half for its four crossings, and Mountain View and Sunnyvale each get 25% for their respective two crossings.

Everyone knows that the $700 million isn't enough to cover the full cost of all eight crossings, but dividing the money relatively equally (each city is of course free to spend more or less on any particular crossing in their city) gives everyone reliable "seed money" to start the process of rebuilding the crossings and seek additional funding sources.

If you think this relatively equal division of funds between the eight crossings is inefficient, how would you divide the $700 million between the three cities to get more "bang for the buck?"


Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2021 at 6:41 pm

Jim is a registered user.

It's pretty simple. Without grade separations, the frequent traversal of HSR trains will CONSIDERABLY increase traffic congestion by stopping traffic every 6-10 minutes. That's why funding was allocated for grade separations in the first place - HSR will increase traffic congestion around any location without grade separations. And the "seed money" isn't meaningful - cities aren't going to be able to fill in the gaps with large amounts of funding elsewhere. They can't raise the 60% or more in additional funds that would be required for each one. So they're not going to build all 8 proposed grade separations. They'll simply do one of two for MV and Sunnyvale, and 2 of 4 in PA, and leave the others un-done.

All three parties knew that the available funding means that only half of the 8 would actually get done. That's why the fight over the funds was so long and protracted.

There are 8 grade separations proposed, with radically different traffic flows on them. An individual PA crossing encounters relatively low traffic. The Mary/Evelyn crossing in Sunnyvale represents the greatest traffic impact of the 8 (probably more than any other 3 crossings combined), since it's a high volume collector. It should have been a priority for the largest chunk of change, since it will directly impact SR-85 traffic. Money should be divided according to the potential for mitigating traffic congestion, not by the number of separations proposed. Bang for the buck, not "size of the wish list".

These are taxpayer funds. It's totally reasonable to expect it will be spent where it will accomplish the greatest result. And that's not happening here, since the greatest result is the greatest reduction in congestion caused by train crossings interfering with car traffic.


Posted by Jim
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2021 at 6:42 pm

Jim is a registered user.

If you want a specific metric to use to divide the funds, then trips per crossing per day would be equitable, while addressing "bang for the buck".


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2021 at 1:26 am

Leslie York is a registered user.

What portion of Palo Alto's $350 million share has already been spent on consultants, engineering firms, studies and wheel spinning? After several years at the drawing board, there is still no viable concept for grade separation in Palo Alto other than the fatally flawed idea to close Churchill Ave.

Has anyone seen a preliminary HSR timetable? I haven't. The notion of an HSR train every 6 - 10 minutes is folly. Amtrak has one northbound and one southbound train per day. If time is of the essence, people fly between northern and southern CA.

Caltrain ridership is down roughly 90% as people have learned to work from home.

Believe the P.R. if you will, but it's still P.R.


Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 12, 2021 at 12:33 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Why is Mountain View getting 1/4 of the money when the City Council is dead set upon closing the Castro crossing, leaving it with only one crossing at Rengstorff? In truth, a grade separation crossing at Castro would be EXTREMELY difficult to approve and build because it would impinge upon the existing Caltrain and Light Rail stations AND also at least the first block of Castro St in downtown MV.

Also, I don't think we'll see HSR "crawling" up the Southern Pacific/Peninsula Commute tracks anytime during our lifetimes unless it's in a tunnel or a trench --- which is impossibly difficult and expensive. The legal and logistical problems are just too great for HSR to be even remotely viable in SC Valley and on the Peninsula. The sole legitimate rationale for grade separation crossings is to eliminate a huge increase in traffic congestion for at-grade crossings when Caltrain is electrified and it doubles (well, that's the plan) its number of trains per day.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2021 at 6:07 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

William Hitchens, I believe Mountain View still plans to build a grade separated crossing at Castro street, but with an underpass for bikes and pedestrians only, not cars.


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2021 at 12:30 am

Leslie York is a registered user.

Grade separation in Palo Alto has been studied to death, taking many years and costing a couple of million dollars.

After all the consultants, engineering firms and even private citizens have finished spinning their wheels, it is clear that there is no design that pleases everybody and meets all of the necessary requirements. I am convinced the most viable solution is to leave everything as it has been for 150+ years. Add quad gates at the crossings at a fraction of the cost.

The most practical option is a viaduct, but it would never fly with residents. A viaduct would be big and imposing and way out of place along the ROW. It would look into back yards of residences. Two stations would have to be modified to access the elevated trains. It would pose a seismic risk. A viaduct would likely face such resistance among residents that it would likely die at the ballot box when it came time to vote on funding.

Closing Churchill Avenue is the worst idea of all, as it would be counter to the very thing grade separation is supposed to accomplish: to facilitate, not impede, crossing the RR tracks. It would only force traffic congestion into surrounding neighborhoods.

Palo Alto has been suckered into believing the pie-in-the-sky P.R. put out by Caltrain and CAHSR. 10 trains per hour? Yeah, right. People are working from home now and Caltrain ridership is down by roughly 90%.

CPA could spend another 30 years studying grade separation but the fundamentals will remain unchanged.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2021 at 1:16 am

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

If it was up to me, I'd leave the crossings mostly the way they are, but the politicians are obsessed with "grade separation crossings" to accompany electrification. At one point they made it sound like this was because of the dangers of electrocution, but the connectors, as far as I know, will be on poles high in the air, not an electrified "third rail" on the ground.

Money seems to be the main hindrance to rebuilding the crossings, except that I don't think anyone has a practical solution for creating grade separation at Palo Alto Avenue--a narrow bridge crosses the creek through the El Palo Alto Park, and how could anyone redesign or even widen the crossing without destroying the creek and the park?

Oops.


Posted by CGPA
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2021 at 9:24 pm

CGPA is a registered user.

Everyone reading this will be dead before Palo Alto so much as changes a single bolt at any of its crossings. The residents want something that is impossible to afford, namely a $100 Billion trench that has as much chance of being built as a freeway to Mars.

As a result, the city will award numerous consulting contracts to well connected consultants for the purpose of studying a trench. The consultants will kick back half of what they receive to the council members reelection campaign funds. Then, surprise, the money will run out. Until the next time, when the exact same thing will happen.

The residents will be delighted that the council is studying a trench, as if the $100 Billion cost will be magically discovered on a shelf somewhere, any day now. As a result, no one will worry about the fact that all $350 million will be gone without a single thing to show for it.


Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2021 at 10:18 am

Leslie York is a registered user.

If Caltrain is smart they will unilaterally say "no" to a trench.

If a Palo Alto rail trench were to become flooded with rain water during a heavy storm, the trains won't move and Caltrain will be immobilized. Pumps do fail, and there is no natural drainage along the ROW. CPA has a poor record of keeping its auto underpasses dry.

Burlingame studied the possibility of submerging the trains and ultimately abandoned the idea.


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