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Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority was a mostly procedural affair going over a revised business plan.

The authority is asking the governor and Legislature to release enough money from the state bond for high-speed rail to ensure completion of the Central Valley portion of the project.

“(Wasco) submitted a formal Title VI complaint in the fall in response to the negative impacts the project is having in our community.” – Wasco Mayor Alex Garcia

However before getting down to business, two disparate views from mayors representing the north and south ends of the proposed route led off the meeting during public comment.

Wasco mayor Alex Garcia called in first. “(Wasco) submitted a formal Title VI complaint in the fall in response to the negative impacts the project is having in our community,” said Garcia. According to ABC23, the complaint involves a local labor housing complex that had to be abandoned due to noise concerns from the rail. The complex must now be demolished because of asbestos, at a cost of about $5 to $6 million, which neither the city nor the rail authority believes they should pay for.

Matthew Serratto, the mayor of Merced, was the next to speak. High-speed rail will be “transformative” for the Central Valley and entire state, he said.

Being able to connect to Amtrak and Altamont Commuter Express trains in Merced would be a big plus, as would be a speedy connection to Fresno and its airport, Serrato said.

High-speed rail will be “transformative” for the Central Valley and entire state. — Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto

The two differing views illustrate the stark contrast that exists among politicians in the Valley who either see the rail line as a waste of money or a boom to the local job market.

“Their whole idea of a fix is, let’s just throw more money at it,” says Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes. “We’re going to end up with a hardly useable system that will cost up to $23 billion dollars.”

Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, says he at least wants the project to bear some fruit for the Valley. Patterson says many farmers have yet to be paid for their land now being utilized for the project, and he wants at least part  it completed so Fresno isn’t left in the dust of an unfinished project.

But California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Henry Perea, a former Fresno County supervisor, says Fresno’s economy stands to benefit the most from the project. “Fresno is going to be the headquarters for the ‘maintenance of way’ station. It’s also going to have the operations and control center and the training facility,” said Perea.

One-Year Delay, More Money Needed

The key points of the meeting were delivered by High-Speed Rail CEO Brian Kelly, who detailed changes to the project that involve a one-year delay on a 119-mile segment of track from Bakersfield to Madera. The budget for that segment is expected to jump from $12.4 billion to $13.8 billion.

Kelly blames part of the delay and cost overrun on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were humbled by it, and we were certainly knocked by it,” Kelly said. “We were not defeated.”

Revised Draft Business Plan

Portrait of Henry R. Perea

“Fresno is going to be the headquarters for the ‘maintenance of way’ station. It’s also going to have the operations and control center and the training facility.” – California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Henry Perea

The board voted unanimously to approve a revised business plan that now goes is subject to public comment until March 12. After that, the finalized plan will go to the Legislature in April, when lawmakers will have a chance to weigh in.

The revised plan outlines the following priorities:

  • Complete the 119-mile Central Valley construction segment and lay track pursuant to federal funding grant agreements with the Federal Railroad Administration;
  • Expand the 119-mile Central Valley segment to 171 miles of operable electrified high-speed rail connecting Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield, three of the fastest-growing areas in California;
  • Commence testing of electrified high-speed trains by 2026-2027 and put those trains in service by the end of the decade;
  • Environmentally clear all segments of the Phase 1 system between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim;
  • Advance construction on the “bookend” projects with committed funding in Los Angeles and the Bay Area — projects valued at more than $3 billion;
  • Pursue additional funding opportunities to prospectively “close the gaps” and expand electrified high-speed rail service to the Bay Area and Los Angeles/Anaheim as soon as possible.

How To Provide Comment to the Board

The Authority is providing the following options for submitting comments:

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