Palo Alto would have to build parking structures for 3,000 cars -- more than the total number of spaces currently in public garages downtown -- to become eligible for a local high-speed-rail station, a rail authority engineer recently told a City Council committee.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority previously identified Palo Alto as one of three cities that could potentially host a high-speed-rail station. Under current plans, the high-speed-rail system would have stations at San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose. The Midpeninsula station, which could be built in Palo Alto, Redwood City or Mountain View, is the only one the authority deems optional.
The Palo Alto council is scheduled to consider in September whether it wants the city to host a station for the controversial rail line, which would stretch between San Francisco and San Jose. On July 29, the council's High-Speed Rail Committee heard a presentation on the potential station from John Litzinger, whose firm, HNTB, is responsible for the engineering work on the Peninsula segment of the proposed rail line.
Litzinger said the authority would build all the stations in the San Francisco-to-San Jose corridor. But it would be up to local communities and private investors to develop parking structures for the new stations, he said.
He said the authority envisions parking structures as private/public partnerships in which investors would charge market rates for station parking.
"The view is that it can be done from an investment standpoint and not necessarily as a city-run operation, unless the city desires to do that," he said.
In Palo Alto, a new rail station would require the parking spots be located within three miles of the University Avenue train station, Litzinger said. Some of these spots would have to be adjacent to the station, while others could be reachable by shuttles.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said at last week's council meeting that a parking structure with 3,000 spots would be larger than the parking lot in the Millbrae train station and "more than all the parking garages we have in downtown right now."
Emslie told the Weekly that the new station's potential size, proximity to a historic site (the present station), and parking requirement will likely be the top issue the council will consider when the council dives into the issue in September.
Cost is another. At $50,000 per space, a new parking structure would cost about $150 million. Councilman Larry Klein observed at the council meeting: "We don't have $150 million lying around."
Though rail officials are still finalizing station designs and identifying potential locations, Litzinger said Stanford Shopping Center could be a viable location for some station parking. If the parking were dispersed among satellite locations, Palo Alto would need about six buildings, each 50 feet high, to contain it.
Litzinger also said that while the rail authority plans to build the basic station, local communities and investors would have an opportunity to upgrade these stations and add features to make them more attractive and potentially profitable.
"It can be a potential complete redevelopment opportunity if the community decided to do that," Litzinger said.