FRESNO (KCBS) — Plans to build a $ 68 billion high-speed rail system in California took a big step forward as the state’s high-speed rail board approved a route for a key segment of the project that stretches from Fresno to Bakersfield.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority voted 7-0 to approve the route and a 20,000-page environmental impact report. Supporters of the plan say the 114-mile stretch from Fresno to Bakersfield will be the spine of the project.
“To get the corridor, to get that right of way now—even as we are doing work in the ends of the system and hopefully we will actually be able to kind of build in two directions at once at some point here,” Dan Richard, the authority’s board chairman, said.
But critics claim the route will plow through thousands of acres of prime agriculture and Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the project, thinks the high-speed rail agency is overspending and has overstepped its authority with the plan.
“They are running at speeds that are well below the speeds that were promised so here is an authority that’s out of control—a rogue agency,” he said.
Recently, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat and once a strong supporter of California’s high-speed rail project, made an about-face on the bullet train saying that he would like to money for the project diverted to other areas.
“We don’t have the federal dollars that we were hoping for—only about $3 billion has come forward. The private sector hasn’t stepped up,” he said in an interview on a conservative radio show in February.
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge last year threw out the state’s funding plan, ordering it to write a new one, and prevented the sale of high-speed rail bonds. The state’s appeal of that ruling will be heard in court later this month.
Meanwhile, work could start as soon as a month or two on the first 30-mile segment of the high-speed rail system, which would extend from Merced to Fresno.
According the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the system will run, by 2029, from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours at speeds capable of over 200 miles per hour. The system will eventually extend to Sacramento and San Diego, totaling 800 miles with up to 24 stations.