High Speed Rail Moves Forward With the ‘Hybrid Alternative’ Route
Author: KSEE News
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 to carry forward the “hybrid alternative” route as the preferred alignment for the project’s Merced to Fresno section at its monthly meeting in Merced.
“Today 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 puts us one 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 3 hours – is a real investment in our state’s future. “
Since its August 2011 release, Central Valley residents submitted more than 2,500 public comments in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Merced to Fresno section. In addition, more than 350 people attended the board meeting, and more than 150 people in the audience 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.”
Many turned out at the meeting in support of the “hybrid alternative”:
“This is a visionary decision. Thank you for the hard work and heavy lifting. You are listening to the Valley and you came up with the hybrid route, and we thank you,” said Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea.
“I have asked your staff to be supportive of agriculture, so I am extremely pleased to see the staff recommendation for the hybrid approach. Thank you for taking our comments into consideration,” said Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo.
Creating needed jobs in the Central Valley was a chief concern to commenters:
Mark Kyle, Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, concluded: “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.”
Others from the Valley praised the Board’s decision, including Cathleen Galgiani, California Assemblymember (D), District 17. “We started a high-speed rail committee in 2003 when we first had concerns about potential impacts to the agriculture community. We came to you and worked with you, our community came up with a preferred alternative – you made tweaks, came up with the hybrid approach that addresses most of our concerns. We’ve worked together to find a workable solution to a very complex, technically limited issue. While there are still some issues to address – we have made a tremendous amount of progress.”
Added Merced Supervisor John Pedrozo: “I have asked your staff to be supportive of agriculture, so I am extremely pleased to see the staff recommendation for the hybrid approach. Thank you for taking our comments into consideration.”
And Madera Mayor Brett Frazier said: “We passed a resolution supporting the hybrid route. It is evident that your staff paid attention to our concerns and compromised. In this day and age, compromise is good to see.”
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 station locations preferred 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, 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 $500 million more.
Staff is preparing the Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement for the Merced to Fresno section, which will include Tuesday’s hybrid route, to be heard by the Board in February 2012.
FRESNO TO BAKERSFIELD UPDATE
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.
SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAM LISTENING SESSION
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 are able to access contracts related to the construction of high-speed rail. The Authority has called for a 30% goal for small business involvement in the project.