November 2020 Statewide Newsletter
A Message from the CEO
California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) CEO Brian Kelly discusses moving high-speed rail forward despite the challenges of COVID-19 amid the global pandemic. Even as logistical issues and other challenges complicate the work, Kelly highlights measurable progress, including advancing Central Valley construction and the project’s phase 1 environmental review from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim. From virtual town halls and workshops to the creation of good paying green jobs at a time of economic uncertainty, high-speed rail is happening, and the work has significantly expanded amid the pandemic. See the video at https://youtu.be/FvHVnk9n7II.
Five Structures in Three Months, 171 Miles from Merced to Bakersfield Environmentally Cleared!
High-speed rail is rising triumphant in California’s Central Valley. Five overcrossings and viaducts have been completed in the past three months.
The good news doesn’t stop there. The first high-speed rail structure has been completed in Kern County as crews finished the Poso Creek Viaduct in October. Located west of State Route 43 and north of the City of Wasco, it will carry high-speed rail trains over Poso Creek.
Last month in Fresno County, the Authority also announced the opening of the American Avenue overcrossing, allowing traffic to cross over the future high-speed rail and existing BNSF rail tracks. Since August, workers have also completed three overpasses in Madera County. Avenue 15, located between State Route 99 and Road 32, will take traffic over existing BNSF tracks and the future high-speed rail system. Not far away, cars and trucks will be able to use Avenue 10 to cross over high-speed rail tracks, along with the Avenue 7 overpass which opened to traffic in October. These grade separations will prevent cars and trucks from idling and releasing greenhouse emissions while waiting on trains to pass.
By year’s end, two more structures are expected to be completed. The Garces Highway Viaduct at Garces Highway, located three miles west of State Route 43 in Kern County will take high-speed trains over traffic in the near future. The Avenue 12 overcrossing, located east of Madera Community College, is also expected to be completed and will reroute traffic over the future high-speed rail and existing rail lines.
Needless to say, it has been a busy few months with more than 1,100 construction workers dispatched each week, and a total of more than 4,700 jobs created since the project started!
I Will Ride Student Outreach Gets Back on Track
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) has relaunched I Will Ride, the student education and outreach initiative designed to inform, engage and connect college students to the high-speed rail program. Through the program, students and young professionals have the opportunity to attend construction tours, webinars and networking sessions with Authority staff.
I Will Ride is more than just a commitment to riding high-speed rail, it is an opportunity to meaningfully engage with colleges and universities to create pathways and opportunities for students. Learn more about the program in the new I Will Ride video.
COVID-19 has kept students away from each other and changed the way they socialize, learn and prepare for their careers. In the coming months, I Will Ride will help keep students safe while focusing on educational and networking events that can be held online in collaboration with colleges and universities.
The student-run initiative was started in the Central Valley by individuals who believed in the development of high-speed rail in California. Local I Will Ride chapters were established at several college campuses including UC Merced, Fresno State, Fresno City College and UC Berkeley. Since then, the Authority has welcomed hundreds of college and university students on construction tours in the Central Valley as part of I Will Ride Day and has engaged in numerous outreach events, including classroom presentations, workshops and connecting students to high-speed rail professionals.
Interested students should check out the Authority’s updated I Will Ride page to learn more.
Meet the Director of Environmental Services: Q & A with Serge Stanich
Serge Stanich has been appointed Director of Environmental Services for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority). Prior to joining the Authority, Stanich worked as Senior Conservation Planner and Business Development Manager at Westervelt Ecological Services. He held several positions at WSP Global from 2015 to 2020, including Senior Permitting Manager and Program Director. In addition to holding several positions at HDR Inc. from 2014 to 2015 and from 2009 to 2013 including Business Class Leader of Environmental Sciences, Senior Permitting Scientist and Senior Planner, Stanich was Vice President of Operations and Senior Managing Scientist at Great Eastern Ecology from 2005 to 2009. He also held several positions at Jones and Stokes from 1997 to 2005, including Senior Scientist, Project Manager and Regulatory Compliance Team Leader.
Q: Tell us what you enjoy most about living and working in Sacramento.
A: I am a Sacramento native and have spent most of my life here from youth through studying biology and environmental studies at Sacramento State University. Sacramento has treated me very well over the years and while I have been fortunate to live elsewhere like Paris and New York, Sacramento keeps calling me back. I really enjoy the great balance of urban and open space and have been fortunate with the professional opportunities available in Sacramento. As the capital of the fifth largest economy and one of the most progressive states, it’s hard to find another place that puts such a priority on economic growth and promoting a healthy environment.
Q: What are some of your other interests outside work and how do you unwind?
A: I have a lot of hobbies, but I am probably most enthusiastic about fly-fishing. It requires a lot of focus and being very present in the moment for when the fish takes the fly. There is so much that is so peaceful and regenerative about a hike in the woods, a fresh mountain stream and being fully present in a moment of nature.
Also, before my wife and I had our first child two years ago, we were very passionate about animal welfare and routinely fostered small dogs for the Sacramento City Animal Shelter at Front Street. We both love taking a terrified stray from the shelter and transforming it into a member of a new family. When I find some free time again, I am sure we will get back to fostering.
Q: The Governor announced your appointment on November 3. Tell us a little more about your background and your approach for settling into the new job.
A: I am new to working with the Authority as a state employee, but I have been working with the California High-Speed Rail Program since 2015 when I started working with the environmental services group doing permitting for the Central Valley project sections. I’ve also been working in environmental consulting helping to provide environmental clearances for infrastructure projects since the mid-1990s.
This has been a hit the ground running at a full sprint type of situation. There are still six project sections with environmental documents in progress, construction and environmental compliance at full speed in the Central Valley, and potentially two more construction packages coming online to complete the lines from Merced to Bakersfield. Fortunately, we have a great team and a deep bench all working hard to help deliver the program. My role is to jump in and support the teams already doing great work to be even more successful.
Q: How would you describe your new role as Director of Environmental Services and what are your primary goals?
A: Environmental Services is just one team in a larger organization that is committed to the same goal: to provide a functioning high-speed rail program to the people of California. My role is to integrate the great people and the technical responsibilities within our division with the larger organization of the Authority as well as our regulatory agency partners and the public. Within my responsibilities to satisfy environmental laws, my goals will be to provide the Authority with a robust environmental protection program that serves the agency and the public, to partner with the regulatory agencies that oversee these laws to ensure that our project is compliant, and to deliver the program in a responsible, cost efficient and timely manner.
Q: What should Californians know about high-speed rail and why it’s important?
A: I don’t think I could work on another project that is as important and as transformative to California and the nation as high-speed rail. I am not against personal vehicles, but the benefits of high-speed rail are significant and the experience of travel is so incredibly luxurious that once high-speed rail is in place, people will be unable to imagine life without it and will wonder why it took so long. The U.S. has simply not kept pace with other modern nations on implementing this important next step for transportation and mobility. I’ve been fortunate to ride high-speed rail in Europe. It’s amazing to go from city-center to city-center in just a matter of a few hours with just simple luxury and grace. I’ve been with American friends for their first high-speed rail ride and the reaction is always the same: “Wow!”
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing the project and how do you plan to help the Authority overcome them?
A: This is a big complex project and, due to the cost, it is controversial, especially in these times when investments need to be weighed against so many different important needs and priorities. There are lots of challenges but the ones that concern me the most are apathy and project fatigue. The apathy I see comes from people who don’t see this project as important. It’s hard to convince someone of the value of an investment if they have no chance to experience it. This is a tough project, and I think there are people in the public who have become weary of it and are ready to give up on it. The project has a lot of detractors and many people are prepared to kill it entirely or abandon elements of it. I will be working very hard to counter this apathy and fatigue and create a positive environment, to motivate people to achieve more, and to convince people internally and externally that this project is an important project that is worth achieving. Americans deserve high-speed rail and it’s long overdue.
Q: What career advice would you give to those looking for jobs in the environmental sciences and planning fields?
A: There is nothing more important than effective communication. The best science in the world is useless if it cannot be understood and embraced by the people that will be affected by it. For young people that are beginning their studies, be sure to have a solid basis in the sciences or engineering but also invest in written and oral presentation skills. For people looking for jobs in the environmental and planning fields, come prepared to work hard and embrace innovation. The future will continue to be bright and full of opportunity.
MTC Includes High-Speed Rail in Funding Blueprint
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in September voted to adopt the final blueprint for Plan Bay Area 2050. The blueprint includes substantial investment, up to $7 billion, in bringing high-speed rail to the Bay Area as a regional funding priority.
The blueprint will be the basis for the development of Plan Bay Area 2050, which will be the next Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy for the San Francisco Bay Area. The investments described in the blueprint focus on joint-benefit projects that would be needed both for high-speed rail and for improvements in existing rail services.
Northern California Regional Director Boris Lipkin welcomed the decision by the MTC.
"The action by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is a notable step to bring California High-Speed Rail to the Bay Area. This marks the first time any region has sought to align regional investments in an effort to match state and federal dollars to build California’s high-speed rail system.
We applaud MTC’s interest in pushing for clean, green mobility choices for California and look forward to working with partners across the Bay Area to make it happen."
To learn more about MTC’s action, please visit https://mtc.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4633798&GUID=F91D833F-21F5-400B-895E-815F1B05D0C8
To view the Plan Bay Area 2050 Blueprint, please visit https://www.planbayarea.org/sites/default/files/PlanBayArea2050_FinalBlueprint_Strategies.pdf
Stakeholder Survey Informs Outreach Planning During Pandemic
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public engagement has looked a little different and the Authority anticipates the need to accommodate health and safety parameters into the new year. As we look back at 2020, outreach quickly pivoted from in person gatherings to webinars and online open houses to maintain contact and get the word out on ways to engage with the high-speed rail program.
Looking forward to 2021, the Authority conducted a survey to gather feedback from Northern California stakeholders and members of the public on how they prefer to learn about the project as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. With more than 600 surveys completed, nearly 80 percent of survey respondents said they remain “very interested” in the California High-Speed Rail project.
Preferred Communication Methods
The survey found more than 60% of existing stakeholders rely on the Authority’s newsletters to stay up to date about the program. The Authority website at www.hsr.ca.gov and newspapers were also cited as important sources.
Survey respondents said they are less likely to rely on social media for information, although Authority staff have other indicators that this might be a useful tool to diversify outreach to those not on the Authority’s email lists.
Most respondents indicated they were not yet ready to participate in socially distanced in-person meetings. However, virtual meetings have become more familiar, and the majority of respondents said they would attend a webinar or YouTube Town Hall.
Topics of Interest
Respondents overwhelmingly prioritized the State Rail Plan and understanding how the Northern California project will connect to other rail services across the state as a topic of interest. Other priority topics included construction progress, plans for phased service implementation and blended system operations (shared track with local and high-speed trains).
Several respondents also commented that they would like more information about costs and funding, the rail experience for travelers with mobility impairments, high-speed rail connections with college campuses, and how the public can help to advance the completion of the system.
Looking to 2021
Many respondents expressed excitement about riding high-speed trains and look forward to more information about the rider experience. One commenter added, “Once Californians get a taste of Merced to Bakersfield, we’re sure the support will be there for a statewide high-speed rail network!”
We have heard this interest and are currently working with the Early Train Operator to preview the surveys and focus groups they are conducting to the Northern California working groups this Fall and will pursue broader audiences in early 2021.
These findings will help inform topics that the Authority outreach team will use in engaging and informing stakeholders and members of the public in 2021. Thank you to all who participated in the survey!
Although the pandemic continues to limit certain types of activities, our priority remains the same: to keep the public informed and allow for ongoing engagement.
Sign up to receive our newsletter and other communications at hsr.ca.gov/contact.
Staedler: High-Speed Rail Collaborating for a Win-Win in Coyote Valley – San José Spotlight
San José Spotlight’s John Staedler reports on how the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the Santa Clara Open Space Authority and other stakeholders are collaborating to protect wildlife in Coyote Valley. Read more in the San José Spotlight.
How Military Experience Helped Shape Brian Ross’ Business Acumen
Brian Ross spent eight years in the U.S. Army serving as a platoon leader for an engineering unit. A year of that time was in Afghanistan working on route clearance, searching for improvised explosive devices and overseeing base construction in the country’s most forsaken regions.
“As an engineering unit, we weren’t going around kicking in doors and looking for insurgents,” Ross recalled. “But we were exposed to a lot of attacks and a lot of threats on a regular basis. It was scary and stressful at times. As a platoon leader, I was responsible for the health and welfare of 50-plus soldiers.”
Read the full story in the Small Business Newsletter.
Caltrain Celebrates Passage of Revenue Measure
With nearly all ballots counted, voters in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties have approved Measure RR, which will provide Caltrain its first ever source of dedicated funding. Read more at Caltrain’s website.
Transformational Palmdale Transit Plan Heads to City Council
Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy is optimistic about the future and the Palmdale Transit Area Specific Plan (PTASP) which redesigns the existing Palmdale Transportation Center (PTC), includes a high-speed rail station and was recently approved by the Planning Commission.
“Cities don’t often have the opportunity to build a new downtown around a multi-modal high-speed rail station, and create office, dining, retail and housing for a walkable downtown where you won’t need a car,” Murphy said.
Working with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), regional partners, stakeholders, the community and developers, the plan covers a 746-acre area surrounding the PTC. The PTASP proposes a development strategy for multi-modal connectivity, a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use district and the future high-speed rail station. This next step for the plan is moving forward to the Palmdale City Council on December 15 for their consideration.
The planning effort, funded by a Station Planning Grant from the Authority, led to the creation of the PTASP. Deputy City Manager Mike Behen is enthusiastic about the results. “This plan, and what it offers, is transformational for Palmdale and the area,” he said.
Goals in the PTASP are to establish Palmdale as a destination, improve the quality of life by reducing commute time, and create economic opportunities and jobs. The overarching goal is the creation of a vibrant mixed-use station that embodies sustainable, economic and social development of the area.
Palmdale is expected to experience a new era of strategic growth with increased interest and development around the future multimodal station. Future statewide high-speed rail service will further provide a new link between Central and Southern California and the statewide transportation network. There will also be connection opportunities in Palmdale for high-speed trains between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
“Palmdale is a diamond in the rough,” said Behen. “We have available land, major aerospace industry giants are here, a great workforce, affordable housing, and with high-speed rail, residents can get to Burbank in 25 minutes and Los Angeles in 30 minutes.”
Authority Holds Three Community Outreach Meetings for Southern California Sections in September, October
High-speed rail planning and progress is happening in Southern California as the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) held three virtual bilingual (English/Spanish) community outreach meetings in September and October.
LOS ANGELES-ANAHEIM PROJECT SECTION
Two virtual scoping meetings were held Sept. 10 and 12 for the Los Angeles to Anaheim project section to provide information regarding the Colton and Lenwood project components. The combined English and Spanish virtual sessions at the Sept. 10 meeting drew about 120 attendees and the Sept. 12 meeting drew about 30 participants.
Panelists included Authority staff and interim Regional Director Ofelia Alcantara, Project Manager Diane Ricard, and environmental and technical leads who gave an overview of the statewide program followed by a presentation of the Los Angeles to Anaheim project section. This included the introduction of the new Colton and Lenwood project components, project schedule, proposed grade separation locations and next steps.
The Sept. 10 meeting also focused on project funding, project operation, construction timeline, outreach to native tribe liaisons and potential environmental (noise, air quality, wildlife habitats) impacts.
The Sept. 12 meeting focused on air quality concerns, community impacts, increased traffic, potential jobs, expansion of freight capacity and safety.
Visit the What’s New and Community Open House Meetings sections of the project section website for more information: https://hsr.ca.gov/high_speed_rail/project_sections/los_angeles_anaheim.aspx
PALMDALE-BURBANK PROJECT SECTION
One virtual community update meeting was held Oct. 22 for the Palmdale to Burbank project section highlighting the modified build alternatives, including the Preferred Alternative which is now SR14A. There were about 170 attendees including notable organizations in both the English and Spanish sessions.
Panelists included Southern California’s new Regional Director LaDonna DiCamillo who gave an overview of the statewide program followed by a presentation of the Palmdale to Burbank project section by Project Manager Rick Simon. Presentations included features of the corridor, project alternatives and reasons for selecting the SR 14A modified alternative.
The question and answer segment in both the English and Spanish sessions covered a variety of topics – construction, tunneling including lengths and depths of tunnels, noise, environmental, community impacts, funding and alignment finalization.
Visit the What’s New and Community Open House Meetings sections of the project section website for more information: https://hsr.ca.gov/high_speed_rail/project_sections/palmdale_burbank.aspx
Meet the New Southern California Regional Director: Q & A with LaDonna DiCamillo
LaDonna DiCamillo has been appointed Southern California Regional Director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority). After growing up in Iowa, DiCamillo went to work for AT&SF Railway, which later became BNSF Railway. DiCamillo, who has a degree in Chemistry and later obtained her J.D., did environmental and government affairs work for BNSF. Her focus was on advancing the company’s mission within California and other southwestern states. She did that by closely working with federal, state and local elected officials and community leaders.
We recently caught up with DiCamillo to learn more about her new role at the Authority helping to advance high-speed rail in the region.
Q: Tell us about what you enjoy most about living and working in Southern California.
A: I can find and do anything I want in SoCal—from beaches to mountains and lots of shopping, entertainment and access to great food.
Q: With two, newly crowned championship teams in Los Angeles, would you consider yourself a Dodgers fan or a Lakers fan?
A: Though married to a football coach, I’m not much of sports fan. I watch as much of the Tour de France (and other rides) as I can. I enjoy riding my road bike and watching the scenery of the Tour is a great way to feel connected to another place.
Q: Tell us a little more about your background and how you are settling into the new job since the Governor announced your appointment on September 30?
A: I love my new team and work! We have a great team and are striving to advance an important infrastructure project for Southern Californians.
Q: How would you describe your new role as Southern California Regional Director, and what are your primary goals?
A: I hope to share my enthusiasm for our mission with all Southern California.
Q: What should Southern Californians know about high-speed rail and its eventual connection to the region?
A: We have an opportunity to get out of our cars. High-speed rail can reconnect the region and give back quality time with our families.
Q: What career advice would you give to those looking for jobs in the rail or transportation industry?
A: I’ve frequently been heard to say, “that’s dissertation work.” The industry is far more complicated and fluid than most people realize. There is something for everyone, and learning the industry can evolve through a full career and beyond.
Q: How do you spend your vacations?
A: My husband and I love to travel, especially if it involves food and wine. I often vacation by myself, too, somewhere I can quilt. I’m a bit artsy and like to get away into my right mind.
USC Planning Students Welcome High-Speed Rail Speakers
Students throughout the state, in every region, are learning about high-speed rail development in California through a unique program supported by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority). Recently, the I Will Ride program connected planners working on high-speed rail in Southern California with the USC student club Undergraduate Planners at Price School of Public Policy to discuss station development at major transportation hubs in Los Angeles, Burbank, Palmdale and Anaheim. In addition, Authority speakers utilized the opportunity to share high-speed rail station development within the Central Valley and illustrate unique opportunities both in rural and urban regions.
USC students utilize Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) to travel in and throughout the state and brought an eagerness to learn how the Authority would play a role in bringing high-speed rail to LAUS to create a high-volume transit center.
Over 24 students joined the Zoom meeting with a wide range of questions that touched on funding, policy, energy, emissions and collaborative efforts with existing transportation centers in Southern California.
Students were welcomed with a quick icebreaker to discuss their field of study and to share the many goals they had within their career. The students voiced their commitment to build a more equitable and sustainable transportation system within their careers in transit.
This presentation is part of a larger outreach effort to connect students to the high-speed rail project through interaction with engineering and planning professionals. Check out I Will Ride to learn more about our student outreach efforts at the Authority.
Soldiering On – Creating Virtual Connections in the Battlefield and Business Field
Erik Holguin wanted to be a soldier at a very early age and loved to play with toy soldiers and G.I. Joes, imitating his former Marine father. When he was older he joined the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and later, as an adult, his attraction to the military lifestyle inspired him to join the Army. Erik enjoyed his training and service as a communications expert in wartime situations, and today he owns and operates EM Link International, a veteran-owned business helping businesses and clients communicate in the virtual business world.
Read the full story in the Small Business Newsletter.
With Nearly Half a Century in the Business, Joe Valverde is a Veteran in Many Ways
Seven years, several new offices, a series of successes—things have been going well for Joe Valverde and Valverde Construction, Inc., since being featured in the Small Business Newsletter in the 1st quarter 2014.
For high-speed rail, the company focuses on utility relocation. They are hard at work on a $38 million subcontract with Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, the high-speed rail design-build team for Madera to Fresno.
It is delicate work—navigating dense cities and their buried tangle of pipes and tubes carrying water, electricity and gas; high volumes of traffic; busy schedules; and various local partners and officials. And all while mitigating impacts to the community and businesses—disruptions, debris, discontent.
Read the full story in the Small Business Newsletter.
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