By Paula Wallis, Reporter
- It put people to work and fueled an economic recovery during the Great Depression and judging from the recent election, Americans are banking on major infrastructure projects to bail the nation out of another economic crisis. Across the country voters approved at least $75 billion for public transportation projects at a time when many governments and agencies are struggling to make ends meet.
California's high speed rail route
- A total 23 of the 32 state and local transit-related ballot initiatives on the November ballot passed in 16 states, authorizing roughly $75 billion in expenditures, some include significant lengths of tunnel construction.
- In California voters passed a $9.95 billion bond measure to finance the nation's first true high speed rail system. The estimated $40 billion, 700-mile project, will include 30 to 50 miles of tunnels.
- "It's a new day in California," said Rod Diridon, Governor appointee to the California High Speed Rail Authority. "We will lead the way into a high speed rail future for the nation. It's our job now to deliver that quickly and on budget so that there's no disappointments." Speaking at a public event in San Francisco shortly before the election, Governor Schwarzenegger said California needs high speed rail. "Our rail system in America is so old. If we want to have mass transportation we should modernize. All over the world we see high speed trains traveling at 200 to 300 miles an hour. We should do the same in this country. We should start in this state and show the rest of the county how to do it."
In blue, LA's options for the 'Subway to the Sea'
- In Los Angeles, a 1/2 cent sales tax increase to raise $40 billion over 30 years to improve and expand public bus, road and rail systems was approved 67% to 33%. Among the projects planned is construction of the LA Metro's 'Subway to the Sea' extension. Two options for the $5-$7 billion underground metro extension is to follow either the 12-mile long Wilshire Boulevard alignment from the Wilshire/Western Metro Purple Line station via Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard and back to Wilshire Boulevard for the run to downtown Santa Monica; or the approximate 12.5-mile Santa Monica Boulevard alignment from the Hollywood/Highland Metro Red Line station through West Hollywood, the Beverly Hills and Century City areas and back to Wilshire Boulevard en-route through Westwood and on to downtown Santa Monica.
- Given earlier concerns about geological conditions in the LA region and technical, contractual, and cost control troubles on earlier Metro line projects, a prohibition against federal funding for an underground route through portions of the Wilshire Corridor for expansion of the LA Metro was repealed in late 2007, and a measure passed on the 1998 ballot to prohibit the use of local sales tax dollars to tunnel new Metro lines, will require other sources of state and local funding to match federal grants to build the preferred subway alignment to Santa Monica.
Seattle's north and east Link extensions
- Good news also in Seattle, Washington where voters this year overturned their rejection of last year and approved by 58% to 42% a $17.8 billion roads and transit package. To be financed via an increase in sales taxes over 20 years, the plan includes construction of an additional 34-miles of light rail for a total 55-mile system. Local funding already exists for construction of the 3.15-mile underground University Link extension north under the Ship Canal that links Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington to a cut-and-cover station at the University of Washington and construction of two conventional design-bid-build contracts for the $1.6 billion extension is planned to start in 2009 following anticipated approval before the end of the year of a November 2007 request for $750 million in federal funding.
- The new approved funding will provide local funding for construction of the next 5.6-mile extension north from University to Northgate of which about half is underground through underground stations at Brooklyn and Roosevelt and with an elevated run into an elevated end station adjacent to the Northgate shopping mall with further extension north from Northgate to Mountlake Terrace and east to Lynnwood, as well as south beyond SeaTac Airport and east for 14-15 miles from the downtown area, possibly across Lake Union on the median of the I-90 highway bridge onto Mercer Island and on into Belleview.
Beacon Hill, Seattle: Final breakthrough of the Mitsubishi TBM for contractor Obayashi (left); finishing of the deep level Beacon Hill station platform tunnel (center); a light rail train in the segmentally lined running tunnel (right)
- In the meantime, the city's Beacon Hill section with its deep level underground station on the current 19km-long South Link to SeaTac Airport is in the final stages of construction before commissioning of the line in Summer 2009.
- Following strong orchestrated opposition to the scheme, voters in Honolulu, Hawaii supported Mayor Mufi Hannemann and agreed 53% to 47% with his plan to build a $3.7 billion, 20-mile elevated commuter rail line from east Kapolei to Ala Moana and to complete the project by 2018.
SMART Sonoma Marin Area Rail Train route
Portal of the long abandoned
Cal Park Hill tunnel
- Meanwhile, in Northern California, voters in Sonoma and Marin Counties approved by 68% to 32% a quarter-cent sales tax to accrue $890 million over 20 years to fund the 70-mile SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) passenger rail-and-trail project running from Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County to Larkspur where the Golden Gate Ferry connects Marin County with San Francisco.
- The project includes a current $25 million project to rehabilitate the existing 1,100ft long Cal Park Hill Tunnel between San Rafael and Larkspur that was first opened in 1884 and closed to passenger trains in 1941 and to freight services in the mid-1980s. Drill Tech Drilling and Shoring Inc of Antioch, California started work in September on the $11.3 million first phase of the project to rebuild the tunnel that was blocked by collapses in the late 1980s and was further damaged by fire in 1990. The SMART project was narrowly defeated on its ballot measure in November 2006.
- Also in Northern California, the results of a bond measure to extend BART to San Jose, was to close to call three days after the election. The measure to increase sales taxes in Santa Clara County by one-eighth-cent and raise $42 million annually would help pay for the estimated $6.1 billion project that includes more than four miles of twin running tunnels and underground stations beneath downtown San Jose.
- With passage of California's high speed rail bond measure, rail, for the first time, will become a viable middle distance transit alternative to air and private car travel. Proponents speaking for the BART to San Jose extension said that expanding regional rail systems and connecting them to the approved high-speed rail proposal is critical for the state's future transportation goals.
BART to San Jose alignment
- The public's support of high speed rail will make it easier for the state to secure $10 billion in matching federal funds and roughly $15 billion in private investment necessary to realize the 700-mile system. "We need to move as quickly as we can now because every year lost is about $4 billion in lost buying power," said Diridon. "Inflation at a rate of 10% is an additional $4 billion annually on a $40 billion project." To control costs Diridon added that the project will likely be a design, build, operate and maintain or DBOM contract and that the state has already received letters of interest from private investment groups. "We have not yet made the policy decision to do a specific kind of DBOM, there are all sorts of variations, but it's my guess that we will do a DBOM contract."
- Preliminary engineering on the entire starter route from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim is already underway and supporters are anxious for construction to begin. If all goes to plan the High Speed Rail Authority anticipates the construction contracts will be awarded by 2011 with construction underway by 2011/2012, demonstration trains on parts of the tracks by 2018/2019 and the starter line operational by 2020.
- Commenting on the election ballot results as a whole, American Public Transportation Association President William W Millar said: "It is significant to note that in a time of economic uncertainty, more than 70% of transit-related ballot measures passed as people voted to raise public revenue in order to improve public transportation. Taking public transportation is the quickest way to beat high gas prices and save money. It is also one of the most effective actions a person can take to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change."
- For a complete list of state and local transportation initiatives approved by voters in 2008, go to the Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE)
California to bring high speed rail to North America - Video - TunnelCast, Nov 2008
California fixes high-speed rail route - TunnelTalk, Jul 2008
Austria: Design considerations for high-speed rail - TunnelTalk, Feb 2008
California High Speed Rail plans - Video - TunnelCast, Nov 2008
America's high speed rail aspirations - TunnelTalk, Sep 2006
Feedback - TunnelTalk
California High Speed Rail Authority
Los Angeles Metro
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
American Public Transportation Association.com