High-speed rail decision draws closer

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webmaster | 06/14/12
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We soon will know whether the Legislature will approve the sale of $2.7 billion in state bonds to start construction on the California High-Speed Rail project — supposedly in Madera’s backyard.

However, nobody seems absolutely sure where that construction would start. At first, the starting place was to be Borden, not far from the Casa Grande Motel, and the tracks would head south from there, winding up in Corcoran. Nobody could figure out why that route was chosen. The explanation was that the stretch of track would become the beginning of the “backbone” of the entire system, although nobody quite knew what that meant.

Now, it would seem the starting place may be elsewhere, but still near Madera.

If the Legislature decides to put off sale of the bonds, it risks having the federal government pull back a promised $3.3 billion in more-thanmatching funds. That federal money would extend the first stretch of tracks, and might mean stations would be built in Merced and Fresno. But it would not include trains or the heavy-maintenance facility. The trains and maintenance facility themselves would be many more billions and many more years away.

The feds want the money to jump-start work on the tracks because high-speed rail is one of President Obama’s big initiatives. If the feds pull it back, Congress probably will use it for something else.

Before much of the bond money could be spent, lawsuits over the project’s environmental impact reports would have to be resolved. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed that the Legislature exempt the high-speed rail project from environmental lawsuits, which would resolve them in a way, but few in the Central Valley would be happy at that resolution.

We should know more by June 30. The project could wind up on the back burner, or we could see bulldozers and dump trucks rolling before too long. It will be interesting to find out what happens.

 

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