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October 11, 2011 > High-speed rail to issue environmental report for Fresno-to-Bakersfield section

High-speed rail to issue environmental report for Fresno-to-Bakersfield section

Submitted By Rachel Wall

The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced on October 5, 2011, that it will issue a Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR)/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the high-speed train project in spring 2012. This additional analysis of alternatives in the Fresno to Bakersfield section will not impact the construction schedule, set to begin late 2012 in Fresno, nor will it affect the Draft EIR/EIS for the Merced-to-Fresno section.

In response to stakeholder, agency and public feedback on the high-speed train alignment that bypasses Hanford to the east, the Authority will re-introduce an alternative route, along with an alternative station location to serve the Kings/Tulare region along that portion of the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section. The Authority will also investigate improvements to the existing Fresno-to-Bakersfield alternatives. This step will also afford additional time to review the information contained in the current Fresno-to-Bakersfield Draft EIR/EIS.

"Our job is to oversee and provide the best possible high-speed train project for California. We encourage the public to take advantage of this additional step in the Fresno-to-Bakersfield environmental process by continuing to review the current Draft EIR/EIS and provide additional comments next year on the revised document," said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "Construction will still begin on schedule in Fresno next year."

The Hanford West Bypass alternative was identified in the 2005 Statewide Program EIR/EIS and including this alternative is consistent with input from regulatory agencies.

Rather than issuing a Final EIR/EIS for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section in January as previously scheduled, the Authority will now use the coming 5-6 months to further engineer the additional Hanford West Bypass route and new station alternative, conduct the additional environmental analyses needed, seek "value engineering" opportunities to reduce costs and make other necessary revisions including those based on comments received through October 13, 2011, after which a "Revised Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS" will be issued for public comment.

Subsequent construction packages are scheduled to begin in mid- to late-2013, after the Fresno to Bakersfield section environmental review has concluded.

Planned construction is composed of approximately 140 miles, depending on the alternative selected, and has an estimated contract value of nearly $6 billion. Constructing the backbone of the state's high-speed rail segment is anticipated to generate tens of thousands jobs over the span of construction.

The formal comment period for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield Draft EIR/EIS section will still end on October 13, 2011, and the revised document, to be issued in spring 2012, will have a separate, additional 45-day formal comment period. The public is encouraged to take advantage of the additional time for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield environmental process to provide further comments on the revised Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS after it is released in the spring. Only comments submitted during the official comment periods will be treated as formal comments and subsequently responded to, in writing, as part of the Final EIR/EIS. As noted, the Merced-to-Fresno section's environmental review schedule will not change; the formal comment period for the Merced-to-Fresno section will end on October 13, 2011.

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