With Diridon Station’s redesign barreling forward, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday is poised to make a decision on how trains travel in and out of the transit hub.
At a council study session last week, officials with the city of San Jose, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority recommended that the new railways align with existing north-south corridors to build on the current infrastructure and reduce impacts on nearby neighborhoods.
On the south side of the station, two sets of tracks currently cut through the Gregory, Gardner and northern Willow Glen neighborhoods. But for an expanding station that’s expected to serve more than 100,000 passengers a day, transit officials—and Netherlands-based consultants Benthem Crouwel Architects and Arcadis Design & Consultancy—propose the addition of two more tracks.
In order to accommodate the added tracks, the team of planners have been mulling two options. One option involves building a viaduct, which is a 3-mile bridge that would carry trains over the Interstate 280 and Highway 87 interchange. Another route is to expand the width of the existing corridor out to 80 feet.
The viaduct option, however, has been panned as “fatally flawed” as it would severely impact the Washington and Tamien neighborhoods. In a memo written after the study session, San Jose Transportation Director John Ristow listed a number of problems with the viaduct including how it “would expand visual and noise impacts over a larger area; pose considerable construction, environmental, regulatory, and maintenance challenges [and] require more infrastructure and property.”
Yet the other option has its own tradeoff.
If the council decides to widen the existing corridor, the 1.14-acre Fuller Park could lose up to a third of its space. The planning team, however, says that the widening would only cut into the tree line and not the park itself.
“The viaduct prevents a few feet from being cut out of Fuller Park and it may save a few properties in Gardner/Willow Glen. But it comes at a huge cost to Washington/Tamien/Alma community,” Brett Bymaster, a Washington-Tamien community leader, wrote in an email to the council. “The Tamien/Washington community is much more poor, and our voices are quieter than Willow Glen, so we need you, our council leaders to consider us!”
In a memo authored ahead of today’s meeting, Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Dev Davis and Maya Esparza echoed community concern around the new rail alignment and their disapproval of the viaduct option. The group of councilors is asking to integrate mitigations for noise, vibrations and air quality into the concept plan—especially in the Gardner and North Willow Glen neighborhoods. They also suggest creating a committee made up of local neighborhood representatives that will provide feedback on the project.
“As revealed in the study, while moving all rail operations on to a viaduct is theoretically ideal, it is simply not feasible given that diesel-power operators would be forced to remain in the existing corridor,” Liccardo, Jimenez, Peralez, Davis and Esparza wrote in a memo. “This would consequently sandwich the Gardner neighborhood between two rail corridors, and detrimentally impact the underserved Guadalupe- Washington and Tamien neighborhoods. Opting for a viaduct option would also divert already- limited resources from quality future mitigations in the existing corridor, such as sound walls.”
Tuesday’s meeting about the rail alignment and the viaduct will mark the third major decision to help guide the station’s redevelopment. The first two took place in December, when the council opted for a design that features elevated station platforms and entrances at Santa Clara and San Fernando streets.
The San Jose City Council meets at 1:30pm Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St. Click here to read the entire agenda.