Tom Lackey | High-Speed Rail, Broken Promises and Local Burdens

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It’s been nearly 10 years since California voters approved the high-speed rail project that was supposed to have ironclad guarantees of no operating subsidies from taxpayers and a promise it would only be built if it had private investors. However, since then, its details have changed so drastically that it is barely recognizable compared to what was promised.

The estimated cost of the project has soared from $33 billion to $77 billion, and officials admit it could rise to $98 billion with no sign of private investors in sight. Budget overruns aren’t the only issues. Construction delays and route decisions are also harming Californians.

For some folks in Southern California, matters just got worse. That’s particularly true for the community of Acton that I am proud to represent in the state Assembly.

The recently announced route through Acton is the latest ill-advised move by the California High-Speed Rail Authority that will unnecessarily hurt California communities.

Along the 14 Freeway in Acton, the rail authority plans to build more than a half-mile of elevated track in a residential area near Red Rover Mine. The route will fundamentally change the character of the community and damage the rural way of life that Acton residents enjoy so much.

Noise from the train will be a huge issue for residents and companies. The rail authority is planning to build the raised track within 1,000 feet of many homes and commercial buildings. The Federal Railroad Administration caps noise levels within half a mile of a track to ensure the surrounding area isn’t wrongfully impacted with excessive noise. According to a local engineer, the train is projected to be 40 percent louder than the maximum allowed by federal regulators. Worse yet, the track will be very close to Vasquez High School and will be sure to cause disruptions for students for many years during construction and long after it’s completed.

Another major burden Acton residents will have to bear is the construction impacts throughout the city. At the rate high-speed rail is building, we are more likely to see a man on Mars than take a ride on what will be the world’s slowest and most expensive high-speed rail system. Acton residents will have to live in a construction zone with a significant increase in congestion for potentially decades to come.

The selected route also sets up years of uncertainty for property owners near the proposed track. With construction many years away, the dark cloud of high-speed rail will hang over Acton until the project is either canceled or finally built. During that time, it threatens to displace equestrian communities, wildlife and homeowners.

If the project ever gets completed, however unlikely that may be, the train will run along the mouth of Red Rover Canyon. Most residents will have a direct line of sight to the rail. For rural folks, life in Acton meant enjoying a quiet setting with scenic views, not a daily exposure to a noisy eyesore.

While putting the brakes on the project will solve all the issues, there is only one other way to help the situation — build the train underground near Red Rover Mine Road. 

The tunnel would be around the same size as other underground portions project engineers intend to build. Also, the decision won’t raise costs substantially — it only adds one additional mile of tunneling to the 24 miles the project is already planning. However, going underground does create risks for hurting local water supplies so it would be carefully engineered to mitigate those issues.

Simply put, by building the elevated track, the rail authority is ignoring the negative impacts to Acton and strong opposition from local residents.

It has been obvious for many years that the high-speed rail project will never live up to the promises made to voters. Clearly, the responsible thing to do is end the project. California can use the tens of billions on better transportation projects like relieving traffic on the 14 freeway or investing in commuter rail to better connect our region to all parts of Los Angeles.

The Acton community deserves much better than what the high-speed rail route proposes to do. The High-Speed Rail Authority needs to come up with a better plan that doesn’t cast a cloud of uncertainty over Acton for years to come.

Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, represents the 36th Assembly District, which includes the Antelope Valley and portions of the Santa Clarita Valley.

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