Palo Alto Council removes multibillion dollar citywide tunnel from consideration

Last night, the Palo Alto City Council voted to remove consideration of a multibillion dollar citywide tunnel from consideration in their decision regarding how to separate the Caltrain tracks from roadways.

The swing vote was provided by Council Member Lydia Kou, after staff had methodically answered her questions about why the tunnel would take as much space as described – requiring the removal of over 20 homes, temporary closure and narrowing of Alma Street – and broke down key elements of cost of the project. With this information, she voted to remove the tunnel option.

Council member Tanaka was the one remaining dissenter, after asking dozens of questions about potential alternatives to the design, such as putting the twin tunnels closer together (which would require reinforcing soil with concrete for the length of the project), the width of the walls, and more. Tanaka also would have supported doing a citizen ballot measure regarding options to fund the ballot measure.

Information about the cost breakdown will be made public, to help residents wrestling with the difficulty of the project to see the underlying information.

Palo Alto is still considering options for shorter tunnel or trench in South Palo Alto to separate Meadow and Charleston from the tracks, along with options where the rail is elevated.

All options are costly, and the underground options cost more, with the delta needing to come from local funds. Among other issues, the underground options would block creeks, and would require continuous pumping during the rainy season that Caltrain has said they will not pay for. In the coming months, residents and the city council will wrestle with the tradeoffs of those options. Updates will be posted on the Connecting Palo Alto website.