December 14, 2011

Calif. high-speed rail board chooses 'hybrid alternative'

In response to extensive public comments and feedback from Central Valley residents, agricultural groups and businesses, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's 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.

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."

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 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 the hybrid route, to be heard by the board in February 2012.

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.

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