While Gov. Gavin Newsom signaled he’s putting the brakes on the high-speed rail plan connecting opposite ends of the state, officials considering transformative development at the Millbrae train station are moving full speed ahead.
Newsom’s declaration that California may abandon its vision for service connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco carries outsize relevance in Millbrae, where a designated stop for the bullet train was planned.
Compounding the challenges associated with the adapting to abrupt announcement, Millbrae officials are deep into vetting proposals to build hundreds of new jobs and homes surrounding the train station.
In the aftermath of Newsom’s speech earlier this month, Millbrae City Manager Tom Williams said local officials must carefully balance their intent to build at the station against uncertainty of what the future holds for high-speed rail.
“We’re not going to stop our progress and build out,” he said. “But I do think it’s disappointing. I think the idea of Millbrae having a high-speed rail station would truly fulfill the vision of Millbrae being a multimodal station. I think we’ll have to just kind of wait and see how it all goes until we get some more information.”
The progress to which Williams refers is pushing forward plans to build two sweeping mixed-use developments adjacent to the station near the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real.
Officials last year approved the Serra Station and Gateway at Millbrae Station projects, laying the groundwork for construction of a combined roughly 800 residential units, more than 400,000 square feet of offices, up to 60,000 square feet of retail space and a hotel.
And with plans for more development and infrastructure improvements on the horizon, including a realignment of California Drive, Williams said officials need to move ahead cautiously.
Vice Mayor Reuben Holober backed Williams’ position, claiming Millbrae officials are willing to work with the rail authority while disallowing the pending uncertainty to impede local development progress.
“We are happy to engage in conversations but we are proceeding without the expectation that they’ll be there,” he said, referring to high-speed rail.
The state’s High-Speed Rail Authority is still crafting its environmental impact report, and Millbrae officials expressed a willingness to consider the findings once the long-awaited document is released.
Underlying Millbrae’s interest in the forthcoming report is a suspicion that the dream to build the train system across the state is lying dormant following Newsom’s comment, but not entirely dead.
“Will that really come to fruition? We have some questions,” said Williams, casting a shadow of doubt on Newsom’s most recent position.
Holober, meanwhile, noted the constant delays and setbacks which have plagued release of both the financial and environmental reports as sources of frustration for officials while planning the Millbrae rail station projects.
Millbrae officials are not the only ones with lingering reservations over the future of the rail line either, as a pending financial battle between Newsom and President Donald Trump invites further murkiness.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the White House shared plans to reclaim the $3.5 billion in federal money allocated to the high-speed rail project following Newsom’s decision to back away from the fullness of the transit plan.
Rather than build the line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Newsom said he’d prefer to focus on construction of tracks in the Central Valley while continuing work on the environmental report. The overall estimated cost of the project is about $77 billion, nearly double from original projections.
Yet despite his downsized scope of the project, Newsom said he plans to keep the federal money — a position which could invite backlash from the Trump administration and add a level of frost to an already icy relationship.
Regarding the future of the project and its expansion through Northern California, a comment from the High-Speed Rail Authority provided little clarity.
“We have received and are reviewing the Federal Railroad Administration letter threatening federal funds dedicated to the high-speed rail project. We are preparing a comprehensive response by their requested deadline of March 5. We remain committed to delivering high-speed rail and its many economic, environmental, and mobility benefits to Californians,” authority CEO Brian Kelly said in an email.
Recognizing the considerable amount of dust which must settle before any vision on the matter is discernible, Holober said at the very least he considers meeting the initial 2033 deadline for the rail project impossible.
But with need to move on constructing the locally-planned developments which have long been in the pipeline, Holober noted the exasperation of Millbrae officials.
“It is challenging from a planning perspective having so much uncertainty,” he said.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105