High Speed Rail Authority seeks approval for first phase of construction
By Timm Herdt
Ventura County Star
Posted November 24, 2010 at 12:02 p.m.
SACRAMENTO — Officials at the California High-Speed Rail Authority said Wednesday they will ask board members next week to approve the first phase of construction — a 54-mile stretch of track that will run through the heart of Fresno.
The hope is that this initial phase, funded by $4.3 billion in federal stimulus money, will ultimately be connected to a high-speed system that will run from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
As a stand-alone section, the proposed segment would never be electrified and never actually carry trains. Officials are hoping, however, that by the time the initial segment is completed, funding will be secured to extend the track either north to Merced or south to Bakersfield, at which point the state’s first high-speed passenger service would begin.
If funding is ultimately not available, the project will be designed to accommodate connectors to existing routes used by Amtrak, allowing for improved rail service up and down the Central Valley. Terms of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding require the project have such stand-alone utility, and money will be set aside to construct the connector lines if they are needed.
The segment would begin in Madera, run south through Fresno and terminate in Corcoran, said Jeff Barker, deputy director. The project would include construction of two stations, in Fresno and one that would serve the Tulare-Visalia area.
“It will have a dramatic effect on the entire valley, and in fact the entire state,” Barker said. He noted economists estimate 20,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending, meaning the project could create 80,000 jobs in the Central Valley once construction begins in September 2012.
The estimated cost of the entire Los Angeles to San Francisco line is $42.6 billion. State voters approved $10 billion in bonds to help finance the project, which has since received a boost from federal stimulus money.
In a letter last week to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said California will be happy to accept additional stimulus funds for high-speed rail. The letter came in the wake of announcements by two newly elected governors that they are considering turning down previously approved high-speed rail funding.