Anaheim ‘Outfoxed’ by San Francisco on High-Speed Rail

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Monday, May 17, 2010 |Anaheim is within months of breaking ground on a new $179 million transportation terminal that is supposed to be a key stop in the state’s $43-billion high-speed rail system.

One problem: As things stand now, the terminal is not designed to include high-speed rail. To change the design and provide extra space, city and county leaders — most notably Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle — need to come up with about $200 million.

Anaheim, according to a rail insider, was “outfoxed” by San Francisco, the only major city in California that has funding in place for its terminal. San Francisco applied for and received specific federal stimulus funding for its high-speed rail terminal, something other cities around the state, including Anaheim, failed to do.

San Francisco’s edge “shouldn’t surprise us,” said Richard Katz, a member of the California High Speed Rail Authority a few weeks ago. “The Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) is from the San Francisco Bay area.”

And yes, said Adam Alberti, a spokesman for the San Francisco Transbay Terminal project, “the speaker was very engaged in the effort (to secure the $400 million), as were our mayor and others.”

San Francisco will get $400 million of California’s $2.25 billion high-speed rail stimulus package for the Transbay (link) terminal, according to a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Alberti said the Transbay project should break ground in August.

The rest of the stimulus money will be spent on the statewide route for tracks, platforms and other direct rail uses. But it can’t be spent on things like a roof over the trains, terminal bathrooms, ticket windows, passenger waiting areas and other features of a terminal.

“We did not include a building in the (stimulus) application,” said High-Speed Rail Authority spokesman Jeff Barker in a telephone interview, “so, no, we would not pay for the building from (stimulus) funds.”

But Anaheim’s money for its 95,000-square-foot addition to the terminal plans can come from a $9 billion pot for high-speed rail approved by voters in 2008. And it doesn’t hurt that Pringle is the chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

But even this option has complications. Legal papers filed in Sacramento this month call into question the accuracy of basic ridership projections for the entire system. The documents allege that statewide ridership estimates were deliberately skewed.

These allegations have a direct effect on Anaheim.

Under current ridership estimates, Anaheim is expected to be the second biggest high-speed passenger hub in the state, behind San Francisco.

Even before the legal action, concerns within the Legislature about the accuracy of those ridership projections prompted lawmakers to ask UC Berkeley to determine the validity of the rail ridership estimates. That study is ongoing.

Accurate ridership estimates are critical to Anaheim because it apparently can’t make any additions or modifications to the terminal once it is built.

The “iconic” Anaheim terminal “is not an expandable structure, and all program space needs to be accounted for in the initial design so as not to preclude services being provided in the future,” according to its application to the rail authority seeking the $200 million.

The city has contracted with the architectural firm HOK and the international construction company Parsons Brinkerhoff to design and build the terminal.

Parsons Brinkerhoff is the program manager for the overall state high-speed rail system, and has come under fire in recent weeks. The firm did not required invoices for $4 million in costs and made tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized purchases, according to an audit by California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle.

Anaheim plans to have its terminal under construction next year and construction on the first section of the statewide rail line is supposed to begin in 2012. The Anaheim to Los Angeles leg is scheduled for completion in about 2018. The full statewide route is expected to be completed by 2035.

Despite all of these issues, officials say Anaheim and the Orange County Transportation Authority are ahead of most other communities in seeking financial help for their terminal from the rail authority.

Their proposal, currently under negotiation with the state agency, would have both local entities provide the land for the terminal and handle all paperwork, reports, and oversee construction.

The High-Speed Rail Authority, under the draft proposal, would put up $200 million for development, design, and construction. A firmer version of the financing proposal is expected next month.

There is added pressure to get this proposal approved because term limits are forcing Pringle to leave the mayor’s office in December.

Like his mayoral term, Pringle’s term on the high-speed rail authority also concludes at the end of this year. He’s indicated he’d like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to appoint him to another term, but his reappointment is not certain.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracy111. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

 

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