It’s a milestone of sorts: after years of talk, talk and more talk, the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday released two draft environmental impact studies on two segments of the bullet train project: Merced-to-Fresno and Fresno-to-Bakersfield (shown above).
The Authority — the state agency charged with planning and building the project — has said it hopes to break ground on a stretch of track in the Valley next year. Whether that will happen is hard to say — there’s a lot of politics and funding issues in play here — but nothing can happen until the project is environmentally cleared and route options are narrowed to a final choice. The 45-day public comment period on the reports begins Aug. 15.
The Fresno Bee has a good writeup on the release of the studies. Excerpt:
The first two stretches of California’s proposed high-speed train system in the San Joaquin Valley would close dozens of roads, displace hundreds of homes and businesses, affect thousands of acres of farmland, and cost billions more to build than originally anticipated.
But environmental impact reports released Tuesday for the Merced-to-Fresno and Fresno-to-Bakersfield segments say the statewide project would save more than $100 billion in new and expanded freeways and airport construction over the next 25 years, reduce automobile traffic and help improve air quality in the Valley and the state.
To say the least, there’s nothing easy about this project. Still to come are the reports and decisions that need to be made to get the train through crowded Southern California and the Bay Area.
The High-Speed Rail Authority also has highlights, summaries and the entire draft reports on its website. The two reports combined are more than 10,000 pages.
The Authority also says that it has the funds in hand to begin work on the initial segment in the Valley from south of Madera to Shafter, which is northwest of Bakersfield.
The big challenge, of course, is to find the $43 billion needed to construct the line between San Francisco and Anaheim. California voters in 2008 approved of a bond measure to sell up to $9.95 billion in state bonds and the federal government has said it will provide $3.5 billion. The sale of the state bonds depend, to some degree, on the ability to secure federal money and the willingness of state lawmakers to take on the debt.