Letter: A visit to the Nowhere Train

A view of what has been built so far on the High Speed Rail system in the Central Valley.

I really thought it was going to be a train to nowhere. However, on my recent visit I realized that it was not just a train to nowhere—it was the Nowhere Train, interspersed from town to town, as isolated underpasses and overpasses sit abandoned, ruins of a previous idea or thought.

As an architect, a developer and a contractor, I know how important it is to understand the overall intent and how we think about an entire project from concept to completion. In the case of the High Speed Rail, it appears as though a complete lack of thought and understanding of the final project defies the process of developing a functional design and construction project.

Perhaps the intent to use the funding overwhelmed the logic, the analysis and the overall constructibility of the project. In an effort to understand what is going on, we went to the Central Valley to look at what has been constructed to date in early January.

The HSR’s next section is potentially to be through downtown Morgan Hill and adjacent to our recently developed Granary mixed used and residential project on Depot Street. This is a project that was not built with public funds to spend. It was a personally financed project, so we wanted to understand the ramifications that the construction could have on downtown Morgan Hill.

Driving along Avenue 12 in Madera and then passing the future intersections at Avenue 11, there are structures but the connections are nowhere in sight. They are abandoned and not properly secured as links in the future construction. As we have seen in failures on other major civic projects, the lack of oversight or perhaps the low-bid construction process has resulted in significant failures.

As we traveled Highway 99, we came upon an unsettling story. We went into Starbucks to get a nice hot drink and asked, “Is the High-Speed Rail coming through here?” and the young woman behind the counter said with a cheery voice, “Oh, it was going to come through here and they demolished this building, and now they rebuilt it.” On either side of the new Starbucks building was a huge empty lot that ran for a mile that had been a Shell station and, at one time, a whole assemblage of other buildings. On the other side of the Starbucks was a monumental structure waiting to be continued.

I believe it is important to do the research. This site visit was more surprising than I anticipated. The complete lack of coordination across the valley was a shock.

Before any work happens on the San Jose to Gilroy leg of the train it is important to validate the process and see if even the first leg can actually be constructed. Given my review, I would estimate that it is easily 10 years from completion, if that.  We should not proceed until the design, process and functionality are tested.

Lesley Miles

Weston Miles Architects

Morgan Hill

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