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December 13, 2011 > High-speed rail preferred route through Valley

High-speed rail preferred route through Valley

Train stations in downtown Merced and downtown Fresno

Submitted By Rachel Wall

After reviewing extensive public comments and feedback from Central Valley residents, agricultural groups and businesses, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a staff report on December 1, 2011, recommending a preferred route for the Merced to Fresno Section.

"This is an exciting step, moving us closer to initiating construction," said Dan Leavitt, Deputy Director of Planning for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "We've listened to residents, businesses, agricultural and community groups and it's clear the hybrid route has the least impact on communities and is the most cost efficient."

The recommendation of the preferred route advances the northern-most Central Valley segment toward construction. Construction of this segment will generate thousands of jobs in one of the state's highest unemployment regions.

"We look forward to being the birthplace of California's high-speed train system," said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. "We're ready to put people to work building a system and a station that will connect Fresno to all of the other major cities in California. This project has the potential to transform and improve California's future."

"We're thrilled we're one step closer to seeing a high-speed train station in downtown Merced," remarked Dr. Lee Boese, Jr., Co-Chair of the Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee. "This project will enhance the lives of residents in Merced and surrounding areas, as well as provide long-term economic growth for our business community. I agree with the Hybrid route recommendation, it will avoid impacts to the small towns of Planada and Le Grand."

The Authority began studying and evaluating potential routes for the Merced to Fresno Section, a corridor of approximately 65 miles, from 2001 to 2005. Based on this analysis, five alternative north-south alignment routes were identified in 2010. In August of this year, that list was narrowed to three routes, which were included in the Authority's draft EIR/EIS. Based on continued community feedback and further analysis, the Authority selected the "Hybrid Alternative" route, which combines elements of the other two routes identified in the draft EIR/EIS.

The Hybrid Alternative generally parallels the Union Pacific Railroad and State Route 99 between Merced and Fresno. To avoid impacts to downtown Madera, this route travels east to be adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) corridor. The station locations proposed along this route include downtown Merced between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and G Street and downtown Fresno at Mariposa Street.

It is estimated that the Union Pacific Railroad / State Route 99 would have cost $1 billion more than the Hybrid Alternative and the BNSF route would have cost $500M more.

Authority staff will present this recommendation to the Board of Directors, which is expected to take action, at the regularly scheduled board meeting on December 13, 2011, in Merced. The Authority has recommended that this route be identified as the preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), which is now being prepared and scheduled for release in early 2012. There will be an opportunity for public comment at the board meeting and also following the release of the Final EIR/EIS.

"The Authority will continue to reach out to property owners, residents and businesses in the project area over the next few months and throughout 2012 to discuss the route, mitigation efforts and ways in which we can work together to move the project forward," said Leavitt.

The southernmost 24 miles along the Hybrid Alternative, from Ave 17 in Madera County through the City of Fresno to the downtown station, will be the first construction area included in the 130-mile initial construction segment.

The "Merced to Fresno Staff Recommendation: Preferred Alternative" report is available on the Authority's website at: http://tinyurl.com/6qojy6u.

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