The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted to begin construction of the system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the heart of the state’s Central Valley, choosing an option that makes the best use of available funding and lays the foundation for expanding the track both north and south.
“We are building a statewide system,” says authority vice chair Tom Umberg. “We’re in the business of connecting major metropolitan centers across our state, and we won’t have a true high-speed rail system until we tie every part of this state together. It’s not one town or one region versus another; it’s about connecting one region to another.”
The decision followed a mandate from the Federal Railroad Administration in October that directed that all federal funding awarded to the project so far must be dedicated to a single portion of the project in the Central Valley.
Authority staff considered that direction, other requirements of state and federal law and how to create the core of a statewide system when they recommended beginning with a 65-mi stretch of track in the Central Valley. It would start north of Fresno near Madera, include the construction of two new stations – one in downtown Fresno and the other east of Hanford – and continue to Corcoran, north of Bakersfield.
Last week, the authority’s engineers recommended that stretch.
The board also considered three other options for beginning the project, but each of them would leave more money unused and might fall short of some state and federal requirements.
This initial segment will use about $4.15 billion of the available $4.3 billion to build two new stations, acquire rights of way, construct viaducts, prepare the site, grade, restore vegetation, build rail bridges, realign roadways and relocate existing railways and utilities.
The project will create thousands of jobs in one of the areas in California hit hardest by the national economic recession, a fact not lost on Valley leaders.
“This project will put a lot of my people to work,” says Don Savory, business manager and secretary treasurer of Ironworkers Local 155. “We need the jobs here. And by beginning this project from Madera to Corcoran, California will get even more bang for the buck. Most of my workers are based in Fresno, so we won’t need to pay travel or subsistence costs. They’ll be close to home.”
No construction can begin until the authority completes its environmental reviews of the project. The federal deadline for completing these reviews is September 2011, and construction is expected to begin in 2012 and finish in 2017.