Return of Proposed Grapevine High-Speed Rail Route Could Threaten Connection to Las Vegas [Updated]

The proposed Bakersfield to Palmdale to L.A. route | Map via CAHSR

Hop onto the California High-Speed Rail Authority's website and you'll see that the route whisks passengers between Los Angeles and Bakersfield with a between in the Antelope Valley. Now an older plan to run the train over the Grapevine has resurfaced, threatening a key transportation connection and a city protesting.

Minutes before a Wednesday hearing held in Sacramento, California High-Speed Rail Authority spokesperson Rachel Wall said the request to review studies of the I-5 route through the Grapevine was a budget precaution. "We are asking the board to approve a look at it," she explained.

The Grapevine route, first shelved in 2005 due to projected costs from tunneling and seismic risks, is now countered by time travel estimates.

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"A preliminary look at the Grapevine indicated a potential to reduce the route by 25 miles, saving 7 to 9 minutes of travel time to San Francisco from Los Angeles," said Wall. "It's possible that this alternative could save more than $1 billion."

With terse words and a slew of data, Palmdale officials will present economic forecasts showing the Antelope Valley proposed route linking the Central Valley with Los Angeles--and a station in Palmdale--will benefit the California.

"We want to be pro-active," said John Mlynar, Communications Manager for the city of Palmdale. "North Los Angeles County is the one region that can handle potential growth. We have open land."

"It is outrageous to think that after all the studying and all the evidence that points to the fact that the route through the Antelope Valley is the most economical, sensible and efficient route, the CHSRA would even consider changing the route," City Manager Steve Williams pointed out in a statement. "It is absurd to make this kind of investment without including the Antelope Valley, which currently makes up 10 percent of the ridership."

Also at stake is the city of Palmdale becoming a major transportation hub for Southern California. "When you combine high-speed rail with the High Desert Corridor [highway], DesertXpress rail [to Las Vegas] and the Palmdale regional airport, it will have an immense positive economic impact."

Still, by late Wednesday afternoon, the authority's Operations Committee approved the staff recommendation to begin a conceptual study reintroducing the Grapevine alignment "to evaluate its potential feasibility," according to CHSRA CEO Roelof van Ark. The same recommendation will be made to the full CHSRA board Thursday.

[Update, May 5th: The board approved beginning a conceptual study of the alternate alignment following Interstate 5 over the Grapevine.]

Palmdale, however, will not budge. They will speak again, said Mlynar. So will Tejon Ranch stakeholders and the National Wildlife Conservancy, who also today spoke to protest the return of the Grapevine route.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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