Staedler: High-Speed Rail collaborating for a win-win in Coyote Valley
A map by the California High-Speed Rail Authority shows the route from San Jose to Merced.

One of the most highly anticipated State of California bond projects is the 2008 Prop 1A High-Speed Rail Act.

The approved proposition authorized issuance $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for construction of high-speed train facilities connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. The February 2020 estimate for completing the project has ballooned to $80.3 billion.

The section that provides the most widely seen benefits for our region is the 84-mile section from San Jose to Merced. The ability to commute from Merced to San Jose in roughly an hour will provide relief on the regions housing crisis. It will reduce the number of cars on the regions highway network and allow for statewide travel without driving or getting on an airplane.

To make this project a reality, high-speed rail has to go through Coyote Valley. This terrain has been widely discussed over the past several years with the preservation of 937 acres purchased, ending 35-plus years of development battles.

The path of travel has to go through Coyote Valley and the approach to creating a win-win between High-Speed Rail and advocates has been a positive note in a time of political upheaval.

I spoke with Boris Lipkin, Northern California regional director, and Dave Shpak, senior environmental planning manager with High-Speed Rail. It was a refreshing conversation about how they were able to improve their project, minimize environmental impacts and utilize an innovative and site-specific approach.

They were able to take the accumulated knowledge of the stakeholders and planning and improved their project.

The GIS modeling of how the wildlife movement corridor occurs between the Mount Hamilton Range and the Santa Cruz Mountains is extensive. The wildlife ranges from frogs, mountain lions up to large species such as deer/elk. The solutions needed to accomplish the movement is no small task.

The Santa Clara Open Space Authority has been a primary stakeholder of the conservation and stewardship of open space in Santa Clara County. As their website states: The Open Space Authority is a small agency with a big mission. We amplify our work through extensive partnerships to accomplish our goals. With our partners, we conserve land, restore landscapes, connect people to nature, support agriculture, provide outdoor education, and sustain our natural resources for future generations.

The amplification of their work and High-Speed Rails collaboration can be seen in the outcome of their revised design.  As I spoke with Jake Smith, conservation GIS coordinator, he shared that the High-Speed Rail’s design process is very collaborative, working through design constraints. They also had frequent check-ins and evolved past standard transportation design.

One of the outcomes of the design process is a series of wildlife under crossings. The preferred alternative includes a new large undercrossing at Tulare Hill, enlarged undercrossing at Fisher Creek and four new 15’ by 40’ undercrossings and three new 5’ by 5’ undercrossings in Coyote Valley.

In a time of divisive politics and tribalism, its refreshing that cooler heads can prevail and collaborate on a design that creates a win-win.

The result of this collaboration is a superior project, while there is a long way to go with fully implementing all of the crossings. I have hope that we can maintain and preserve Coyote Valley and utilize a High-Speed Rail network that California deserves.

Onward and upward.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at [email protected] or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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