First published in the Jan. 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Despite ongoing concerns from Burbank officials, the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved the final environmental impact report for the Burbank-to-Los Angeles portion of the project this week.
The high-speed rail, once completed, will connect Sacramento and San Diego via a rail system capable of reaching speeds of 200 mph, with an underground station planned for Burbank. On Thursday, the authority approved the findings of an environment report they said sufficiently addressed local officials’ primary concerns regarding future development, clearing a major hurdle to the design and land acquisition stages.
The rail authority still needs to secure funding for the project, which according to the Los Angeles Times is estimated to cost about $100 billion by its completion, and reach agreements with cities like Burbank that have for years expressed uneasiness about the massive project’s effect on their communities.
“This is still very early in the process,” Serge Stanich, the rail authority’s director of environmental services, told the board of directors Thursday, “and I want to note that this is where we would initiate these third-party agreements as we then advance the design, long before we get to any element of project implementation.”
The rail’s route in Burbank would tunnel underneath the Hollywood Burbank Airport until elevating to the surface between Hollywood Way and Buena Vista Street. It would then continue roughly along the I-5 Freeway before exiting the city near Alameda Avenue.
A representative of the Burbank’s transportation division was not available to provide comment by the Leader’s deadline.
The city, which does not have an official stance on the high-speed rail, has spent years discussing the project with authority representatives. The City Council recently approved a comment letter to the authority that outlined the municipality’s major concerns, some of which were reiterated and discussed during the authority’s meetings this week.
For example, Burbank Water and Power officials raised worries that the project would disrupt the city’s water supply and service, potentially requiring the authority to purchase water as reimbursement. While Stanich said that the authority would coordinate with cities to ensure construction did not impair municipal water supplies to the point that municipalities would need more, and that the agency would try to minimize impact to water systems, he acknowledged that he did not have a “complete answer” as to how long development would affect those systems.
Burbank representatives also said the authority didn’t provide enough information about how construction will impact traffic and street closures. But Stanich disputed that assertion, arguing that the final environmental impact report clearly indicates detour provisions and traffic routes.
The report notes, among other street impacts, that construction would inhibit traffic flow on Hollywood Way and Vanowen Street to one open lane in each direction — though space will be kept open for emergency vehicle access — with possible closures on Empire Avenue, including a potential full shutdown.
The report also indicates that development will eventually require the demolition of 92 Burbank businesses and eight residential units, displacing an estimated 20 residents. Among those businesses are those at the Avion business park adjacent to the airport. The authority is required to compensate property owners and help relocate tenants.
The Hollywood Burbank Airport has also raised concerns about potential impacts of the rail’s construction and underground operation on its operations. Stanich said the Federal Aviation Administration indicated in 2020 that the project wouldn’t affect the airport, but that the authority would need to seek FAA approval again.
Martha Escutia, a High-Speed Rail Authority board director and a former California state senator, said it was important that the agency continue to involve Burbank, Avion and other institutions that have objected to portions of the environmental report’s findings as the authority moves forward.
“I want to make sure that entities that still have concerns about this EIR, about this project … still have access and opportunity and a proper venue to bring forth those concerns,” she said, “because to me this is a process, and to me that assumes collaboration.”