Fresno to Bakersfield Section of High Speed Rail System Could Be Approved Within Weeks

Fresno to Bakersfield Section of High Speed Rail System Could Be Approved Within Weeks

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has two meetings scheduled this week. These are the last procedural steps before the Board will decide whether to approve a 114-mile segment of line connecting Fresno and Bakersfield.

The Authority released the final draft of its Environmental Impact Report on the Bakersfield to Fresno segment. The report is an immense 20,000 pages and details the projects’ expected impact on everything from air quality to taxes.

The initial plan is a non-stop connection between the two cities. As the report’s summary notes, “a third station in the vicinity of Hanford… would be built when travel demand warrants it.”

The cost of the “Preferred Alternative” is estimated to be $7.1 billion in 2010 dollars. The entire project connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco is expected to cost $68 billion.

Funding for the construction of the system has been the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Opponents argue that the Rail Authority has not kept promises written into the bond issue which was approved by voters in 2008. In November a Superior Court judge ruled that the Rail Authority could not access the state bond money until it submitted a funding plan that identified where all the money would come from. That decision has been appealed.

With state money cut off, the Rail Authority was left with federal money. In theory, the federal money are matching funds. A recent piece in the Sacramento Business Journal suggested that if the Rail Authority spends federal money and fails to raise matching state money, the feds could demand a refund.

Supporters of the rail system are also attempting to divert money from a statewide cap-and-trade system implemented in 2006. That shift of money won’t be voted on until next month. Opponents say it’s a last ditch effort to save the project which has attracted no private investment or money from local governments.

Currently, the Rail Authority is scheduled to spend $4 billion in construction next year but only has $3.3 billion (of federal money) on hand.