By Stephen Baxter

A plan to bring California’s 800-mile, $45 billion high-speed rail project through San Jose left dozens of local residents wondering about the fate of their homes.

Rail leaders are proposing to bring the new rail through several San Jose neighborhoods next to the Caltrain line, which would mean adding two sets of tracks and widening the corridor from 64 feet to 102 feet.

Willow Glen resident Leslie Roberts, who lives near Fuller and Bird avenues close to the Caltrain tracks, said she fears she could lose her home if the corridor needs to be widened.

“I just spent $120,000 updating that house, so I’m heartbroken,” said Roberts during a community meeting with high-speed rail authority leaders at the Gardner Community Center on Feb. 25 that drew more than 60 people.

Some neighbors near the Caltrain tracks asked whether their homes would be sold by the rail authority or taken by eminent domain, rail leaders said taking the property would be the last resort.

“Caltrain is the preferred corridor, but it’s not the only possible way,” said Gary Kennerly, the rail authority regional manager for the San Jose to Merced section. “If there’s fatal flaws, it could change.”

State voters approved the sale of bonds for the high-speed rail project in November 2008, which will run trains from Sacramento to San Diego at a top speed of 220 mph. Its first phase will connect San Francisco and Los Angeles through San Jose’s Diridon station near the arena. Planners expect 86 high-speed trains and 15,000 passengers arriving at Diridon station daily.

The project is billed as a cheaper and more environmentally conscious alternative to expanding airports and freeways as the state’s population grows.

In San Jose, the proposed route runs parallet to the Caltrain tracks, which basically run from the south along State Route 87, turning near Fuller Avenue in Willow Glen to cross Interstate 280 to Diridon train station. The route would continue north near Stockton Avenue up to San Francisco.

The entire line would have a dedicated right of way and walls or bridges to keep out people and wildlife. Dave Mansen, a Parsons Corp. consultant and regional team project manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said the route being explored is the authority’s preferred option, but the Union Pacific Railroad Co. told the authority not to assume it could use the Caltrain tracks. Union Pacific has traffic rights to the tracks, which are owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.

Two separate environmental reviews will take place for San Jose’s portion of the project, from Diridon station north to San Francisco and from Diridon south to Merced. For the Diridon to Merced portion, an open house will be held on March 25 to pose questions to the rail authority for the environmental impact report. The open house will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Roosevelt Community Center, 901 E. Santa Clara St.

The deadline for submitting questions for the environmental impact to Merced is April 10, and the deadline for the line from Diridon to San Francisco section is April 6.

Comments and questions also can be e-mailed to Dan Leavitt at comments@hsr.ca.gov with the subject line “San Jose to Merced HST.” For comments on the line from Diridon to San Francisco, the subject line should be “San Francisco to San Jose HST.”

For more information on the project, visit www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.

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