By Dan Weikel, August 23, 2014
To get high-speed rail from Palmdale to Burbank, planners have focused
for years on two potential routes that parallel the 14 Freeway and
course through the rural and growing communities of Acton, Agua Dulce
and Santa Clarita — hostile territory for the bullet train project.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich thinks there's a better way to go.
is recommending to the California High-Speed Rail Authority an
alternative to the south that would rely on extensive tunneling to cross
the rugged Angeles National Forest.
an approach," Antonovich recently told bullet train officials, "could
provide a boon to the authority by eliminating conflict with Acton, Agua
Dulce and Sand Canyon communities in my district while also helping the
project reduce its costs and travel times."
He has made the pitch
before, but this time his suggestion is getting some traction. The
authority, which recently accelerated planning for the
Palmdale-to-Burbank leg, has begun to seriously consider Antonovich's
During seven meetings this month in communities from
Palmdale to Los Angeles, high-speed rail officials have asked members of
the public to comment on the proposed corridors, including
The public has a month to respond. If there is
enough support for the supervisor's recommendation, the authority says
his proposal could qualify for more in-depth studies, the outcome of
which might eventually lead to its selection as the route for the
"We ought to take a serious look at this," said Jeff Morales, the
authority's chief executive. "I continually push our team to look at
ideas and to solicit and listen to what we get from the outside. We are
sensitive to community input, and we've heard the concerns of Acton,
Agua Dulce and Santa Clarita. That matters."
approached the authority with his idea several years ago, but board
members and the chief executive at the time were reluctant to work with
the range of federal environmental agencies that would have to be
involved in planning and approving a route through a national forest.
With the arrival of Morales and board Chairman Dan Richard, the agency
has been more receptive.
"We've had some discussions and talked to
the supervisor," Morales said. "I'm impressed by his focus to bring
improvements to that part of the county and state. He's pushed hard and
Antonovich's proposal would run about 35 miles through the Angeles
National Forest. It would go around the Hansen Dam Recreational Area,
authority officials say, and include roughly 20 miles of tunnels. A
specific route has not been determined.
In contrast, the other two
proposals along the14 Freeway are about 48 miles long and generally
follow the highway and a San Fernando Valley railroad right-of-way used
by the Metrolink commuter line. About 18 to 20 miles of tunneling and
more than 20 grade separations would be necessary if either was chosen.
corridors would begin at the Palmdale Transportation Center and end at
the Burbank Airport Station, a developing transportation hub.
Although none of the proposals have been fully vetted, Morales said
there could be advantages to Antonovich's plan, including lower
construction costs and shorter travel times. The trip would take an
estimated 15 minutes, 7 to 10 minutes less than the highway routes.
addition, both Morales and the supervisor said there would be
substantial benefits from reducing the project's effects on communities
along the 14 Freeway, where the population has grown at least 24% in the
Local leaders and community groups say the routes
along the 14 would bring high-speed trains near schools, disrupt the
rural setting and mar the center of Acton with a viaduct.
Santa Clara River, residential water wells and hundreds of properties
would be adversely affected, they said, including the Shambala Preserve
in Acton, a big cat sanctuary owned by a partnership that includes
actress Tippi Hedren.
Michael Hughes, president of the Acton Town Council, said he was
"very much in favor" of Antonovich's proposal, but residents and local
leaders would like to see the suggested corridor moved a few more miles
east to take it completely out of Acton.
In a recent letter to the
rail authority, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, a Republican who represents the
Santa Clarita Valley, said he supported Antonovich and urged the agency
to disavow the routes along the 14 Freeway in order to "reset the
Katherine Sky Tucker, who has a ranch off the Angeles
Forest Highway in east Acton, said, however, that Antonovich needs to
be more specific and move his proposal out of the community.
Palmdale wants a station so bad, the route should all be in Palmdale so
we can maintain the rural environment" in Acton, said Tucker, whose
land and neighboring properties could be crossed by the project's right
of way. "We are trying to save what we have here."
Other concerns could come from environmental groups should Antonovich's alternative gain momentum.
environmental impacts would be enormous," said Kathryn Phillips,
director of Sierra Club California, which generally supports the
high-speed rail project. "Going through a national forest isn't going to
sit well with my members."
Morales defended Antonovich's proposal.
Even if a route is built through the forest, he said there would be
substantial environmental benefits, such as reductions in traffic and
air pollution across the region.
"I'm sure questions will be
raised; that's why you go through the environmental review process," he
said. "The tunnels could be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of thing."