California has been a leader in the nation in so many ways, and over the next few years, we will have the opportunity to do so again by constructing the nation’s first high speed rail. This is long overdue – while many countries in Europe and Asia have used these fast-moving trains for many years, the United States is only now moving away from its reliance on traditional forms of transportation.
I’ve been a strong supporter of the high-speed rail project since its inception. Los Angeles residents know all too well about the congestion on our highways and the pollution associated with more and more cars on the road. Like the Northeast Amtrak corridor that connects Washington, D.C. to New York City and Boston, the California High-Speed Rail will provide Californians a viable alternative to travel between Southern and Northern California and points between.
Furthermore, this new mode of transportation will allow airlines to focus on offering more flights to destinations outside of California once travelers begin using the high-speed rail to commute between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It would also greatly benefit the Burbank Bob Hope Airport, by providing travelers with another source of transportation to and from the airport.
Many of the arguments in favor of high-speed rail have been obscured by early mismanagement of the project and a failure to consult the community over key decisions on the train’s potential routes. I am greatly concerned that the California High Speed Rail Authority is about to make another such mistake.
Over the past few months, residents in the foothills have been learning more about the Authority’s hasty decision to study running the high-speed rail through the Angeles National Forest. For decades, residents of the foothills have lived peaceful lives in and about the forest, welcoming visitors and using the abundant trails for recreational hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
The community is deeply concerned that the Authority has already decided the train’s route will take it through the forest. Though the Authority has announced its intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Report, I am concerned it is doing so only to ratify the conclusion it has already reached. If it did so, it would not be the first transportation agency to start with its desired conclusion and work backwards. But it would generate tremendous new opposition to a train that already has few friends and many detractors.
The Angeles National Forest is a cherished part of Los Angeles County. It offers rich biodiversity that needs protection and allows Los Angeles residents to escape the urban setting and experience open space and natural wonders in our backyard. In fact, the Angeles Forest is one of the most heavily utilized forests in the nation. For this reason, residents of Southern California have been working with me for over a decade to preserve these lands and the surrounding Rim of the Valley as part of a new or expanded national recreation area. Within the next few weeks, the National Park Service is expected to release its draft report on which areas should be given the enhanced resources and protection that would result from their inclusion in a recreation area, and I will be introducing legislation in the upcoming session of Congress to make such an expanded park a reality.
In addition, in August of this year, President Obama designated the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument so that it may be preserved for future generations to enjoy. The Forest Service now has three years to devise a management plan to govern this new national monument.
Planning massive construction of a rail corridor through the forest while the Rim of the Valley is under active consideration as a recreation area, and before the Forest Service can devise a management plan for the already existing monument makes little sense – either planning for the rail line would have to be put on hold for years, or any plan that would go through the forest would have to be subject to radical revision later. Either way, the costs to the project in dollars, delay and opposition would be high.
The original route from to Palmdale to Burbank bypassed the Angeles National Forest altogether and ran alongside California State Route 14. Tunneling through the forest wasn’t even under consideration until this summer, when a new corridor – the East Corridor – was proposed to take the high-speed rail directly through the Angeles National Forest. The slightly faster speeds that may be gained by going through the forest do not outweigh the far greater costs to the project and the damage that might be done to our environment. I believe the Authority should scrap its plan to study the Angeles National Forest as a possible route and go back to its original plan.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents the 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.