Environmental review of Burbank-Palmdale high-speed rail released

Since the earliest plans for the California High-Speed Rail Project, the segment connecting the Central Valley to Los Angeles has been fraught with controversy and technical conundrums. Political pressure and other concerns ultimately pushed the route away from the Grapevine and over the Tehachapis to the Antelope Valley, where it is planned to run along the State Route 14 corridor into the San Fernando Valley.

A final environmental review for a critical 38-mile leg from Palmdale to Burbank was released Friday. If approved by the authority’s board of directors next month, the entire route between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be environmentally cleared for construction.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors is expected to make a decision in late June on whether to accept the document, which includes several possible variations of the route with consideration to concerns about cost, aesthetics and environmental impacts raised by community members over the past two years.

“This environmental document is the culmination of years of analysis and stakeholder engagement and is a huge milestone in connecting high-speed rail between two of our major metropolitan centers, San Francisco and Los Angeles," outgoing authority Chief Executive Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Read more: High-speed rail board supports new recommendations for L.A.-to-Anaheim segment

The state has spent roughly $144.5 million developing plans for the Palmdale-Burbank section. An approval of the environmental review would clear a major obstacle, but others remain. While the agency has secured funding for the construction of 119 miles currently underway in the Central Valley, there are still billions of dollars needed to complete the line throughout the rest of the state that have yet to be secured.

The preferred route from Palmdale to Burbank is a 38-mile stretch that would connect the Palmdale Transportation Center to the Hollywood Burbank Airport. It would include four tunnels ranging from about 12 to 13 miles in length and would operate underground through the Acton area, the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in order to reduce impacts on communities and environmental resources. The trip between the two stations would take about 15 minutes.

“Palmdale to Burbank might be the most interesting section of engineering on the entire line. The tunnels will be some of the longest train tunnels in the Western Hemisphere,” said spokesperson Jim Patrick.

The project’s only longer tunnel would be the 13-mile stretch at the Pacheco Pass in Santa Clara County.

Read more: Despite some progress, state's high-speed rail is $100 billion short and many years from reality

The Palmdale-Burbank plan is expected to be considered at the board’s June 26-27 meeting in Burbank.

“If our board of directors approves this document and the proposed project at their summer board meeting, we will have environmentally cleared 463 of the 494-mile Phase 1 system between the Bay Area and Los Angeles/Anaheim," Kelly said.

The more than 30-mile segment between Los Angeles and Anaheim is currently under a first phase of an environmental review. That process to complete the review is expected to take more than a year.

The final environmental review for the segment between Union Station and Burbank was previously approved by the board.

The plan for the Burbank-to-Palmdale portion is available for public review from now until the June board meeting. At that time, the board could approve the plan and select a preferred route. If the board needs additional time for review, Patrick said it could delay the approval process or ask for reconsideration and reopen it for public comment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.