News Column

Rail Board Will Discuss Central Valley Routes

April 4, 2013

Tim Sheehant, The Fresno Bee

Engineers' recommendations for high-speed train routes around Chowchilla and Hanford will be presented Thursday when the California High-Speed Rail Authority's board meets in Fresno.

The authority will also consider amending two major contracts with consultants for work in the San Joaquin Valley, increasing its consulting budget by more than $47 million.

What was once a convoluted "spaghetti bowl" of 14 alternatives for the Chowchilla Wye -- a Y-shaped junction in Madera County connecting the north-south Merced-to-Fresno section of the statewide rail system with an east-west line from the Bay Area -- has now been reduced to only four. Three of the routes generally follow Highway 152, the east-west state highway between Chowchilla and Los Banos, and the fourth follows Avenue 21, about two miles farther south.

For the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the rail line, planners are recommending a route that loosely follows the BNSF Railway freight line now shared by Amtrak's San Joaquin passenger trains. The proposed route, however, would diverge from the BNSF line with tracks built below ground level in the Hanford area, bypassing the city on its western edge. The recommendation includes a passenger station between Hanford and Armona.

Farther south, the proposed route includes bypasses to carry high-speed trains around, rather than through, the communities of Corcoran, Allensworth, Wasco and Shafter before entering Bakersfield from the west. The recommendation was crafted from among more than 70 potential combinations of alternatives, including options for running tracks through each of the communities or on elevated tracks.

No formal vote is expected on either presentation. The options being considered for the Chowchilla Wye will be evaluated for their effects on farmland, residents, businesses and wildlife habitat in a report that will augment the environmental impact report approved in May 2012 for the Merced-Fresno section of the rail project.

The recommended Fresno-Bakersfield route, with its various bypasses, will go through more study before the rail board is asked next month to include it in a final environmental impact report that is being prepared for adoption later this year.

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at Fresno City Hall and is open to the public. The board's meetings are usually held in Sacramento, but this one was relocated to Fresno because most of the agenda focuses on issues in the San Joaquin Valley. This will be the first full meeting for new board member Katherine Perez-Estolano of Pasadena, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week. Several board members will be attending the meeting via teleconference from sites in San Francisco and Sacramento.

Also on the board's agenda are amendments to contracts with consultants working on plans for various portions of the statewide rail project. One would increase the budget for a contract with Parsons Transportation Group from $55 million to more than $64 million. The increase covers additional work by the company on analyzing the options for the Chowchilla Wye, preparing a supplemental environmental report for the region and other factors.

An architectural and engineering contract with a team of consultants working on the Fresno-Bakersfield and Bakersfield-Palmdale sections of the rail project was due to expire in June. The authority proposes to extend the contract for two years and increase the budget from almost $120 million to more than $158 million. The extension and increases cover work on the final EIR for the Fresno-Bakersfield segment, preliminary engineering work on construction sections between Fresno and Bakersfield, and securing permits and developing ways to minimize effects of the rail line between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The authority proposes to extend the contract for two years and increase the budget from almost $120 million to more than $158 million.

The extension and increases cover work on the final EIR for the Fresno-Bakersfield segment, preliminary engineering work on construction sections between Fresno and Bakersfield, and securing permits and developing ways to minimize effects of the rail line between Fresno and Bakersfield.

If you go

What: California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting

When: 10 a.m. Thursday

Where: Fresno City Hall Council Chamber, 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno. Teleconference sites will be at Sacramento City Hall in Sacramento and at the State of California building in San Francisco.



Source: (c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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