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December 20, 2011 > Preferred route and stations for high-speed rail

Preferred route and stations for high-speed rail

Submitted By Rachel Wall

In response to extensive public comments and feedback from Central Valley residents, agricultural groups, and businesses, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board agreed with the staff recommendation of the "hybrid alternative" route as the preferred alignment for the project's Merced to Fresno section at its monthly meeting in Merced on December 13, 2011.

"This is a milestone for the state's high-speed rail project," said Thomas J. Umberg, Chairman of the Board. "I'm grateful for the tremendous public feedback and community participation. This is an important step closer to building an intrastate high-speed rail system, connecting the Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Angeles and Anaheim region. That trip, which will take less than three hours, is a real investment in our state's future."

Since the release of the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Merced to Fresno section in August 2011, Central Valley residents have submitted more than 2,500 public comments. More than 350 people attended the December 13 board meeting and more than 150 people addressed the Board.

"The decision to move forward with the recommended route brings us closer to the start of construction on the nation's first, true high-speed rail system," said Umberg. "Construction will create thousands of jobs at a time and in a place where they are needed most. There is no better time than now to start California's high-speed rail project."

"I've asked your staff to be supportive of agriculture, so I'm extremely pleased to see them recommend the hybrid approach. Thank you for taking our comments into consideration," said Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo.

"The construction industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy in this recession. The state's high-speed rail project will create tens of thousands of badly needed jobs in the next year in the Central Valley. As construction begins over the next two decades, this project will generate many thousands of jobs up and down the state," stated Mark Kyle, Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3.

The route was one of three alternatives under consideration. 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 preferred station locations along this route include downtown Merced between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and G Street and downtown Fresno at Mariposa Street.

The Authority studied 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 2011, that list was narrowed to three routes, which were included in the Authority's draft EIR/EIS.

Based on community feedback and further analysis, the Authority identified the hybrid alternative route, which combines elements of the other two routes identified in the draft EIR/EIS. 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.

Staff is preparing the Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement for the Merced to Fresno section, which will include today's hybrid route, to be heard by the Board in February 2012.

The Board also approved the staff's recommendation to add the Hanford West Bypass route, with an accompanying station alternative, to the routes under consideration in Kings County within the Fresno to Bakersfield section.

The decision to re-introduce the West Hanford Bypass was announced in October 2011 in response to feedback from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as comments from the community on potential improvements to the East Hanford route.

There are two options for the location of the optional Kings/Tulare regional station, one on the Hanford East Bypass north of Hwy 198 and east of Hwy 43, the other also in Hanford, but on the Hanford West Bypass east of 13th Avenue and north of Hwy 198.

Additionally, about 50 small business owners, mostly from Merced and Madera Counties, crowded into a separate conference room at the event to ask Authority representatives questions about its Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program and to receive contracting opportunity information.

The program was developed to ensure small businesses in California can access contracts related to the construction of high-speed rail. The Authority has called for a 30 percent goal for small business involvement in the project.

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