High-speed rail agency wants big firms to bid on first stretch

November 15, 2011 

The California High Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday said it wanted large companies doing world-class projects to bid on the first $2 billion rail leg through Fresno.

Tens of thousands of jobs would be created on that leg, which, depending on the alignment, would run about 21 to 29 miles from Madera to just south of Fresno, the rail authority said.

The announcement signals that the $98.5 billion high-speed rail project, opposed in farm country and parts of the Bay Area, is marching forward despite a new lawsuit to stop it.

Kings County and two local landowners teamed up with a crusading lawyer in Redwood City to file a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court this week on grounds that Prop. 1A money can't be spent on the Chowchilla-to-Bakersfield portion.

The wording in Prop. 1A says high-speed rail must be electrified, lawyer Michael Brady said. The Central Valley segment won't be electrified in the first phase of construction, according to rail authority plans.

"They're walking all over us," said Kings County Board of Supervisors chairman Tony Barba. "What do we have to lose?"

The rail authority issued a statement that "we believe we are compliant with the requirements of Proposition 1A," and said it would have no further comment.

Hanford won't be joining the county's lawsuit, but the city opposes high-speed rail through Kings County, Mayor Sue Sorenson said.

"We don't want it in {the heart of] Kings County," she said. "Put it on Highway 99 or I-5."

On Tuesday, the Hanford City Council got its first look at new rail alignment maps through Kings County.

The rail authority is considering shifting the alignment from east of Hanford to west of town, between Armona and Hanford. The maps get a public test Thursday night, when rail staff shows them at a public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. at Sierra Pacific High School on 13th Street in Hanford.

The first tracks to be built for California's high-speed rail project are slated to run through Fresno, with project construction to start in fall 2012. The $1.5 to $2 billion leg would be the biggest in the Central Valley portion of the high-speed rail line, the authority said.

That promises to be good for jobs, said Al Smith, president and CEO of the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

"If anyone needs those jobs, it's here," Smith said. "Opportunities like this don't come by very often."

Construction would take place from near Madera to about East American Avenue, including 12 grade separations, two viaducts, a tunnel and a bridge over the San Joaquin River.

Large companies capable of designing and building projects must prequalify to bid on the contract for the Madera through Fresno portion, said Rachel Wall, rail authority press secretary. Applications are due in 35 days, and the most qualified applicants will be put on a "short list"eligible to bid on the segment.

In addition to the master contract for the Madera-to-Fresno segment, the rail authority said it plans to seek bids on two related projects: an undercrossing at Fresno Street and an overcrossing at Church Street, both for traffic. Contracts would go to bid next year.

The reporter can be reached at lgriswold@fresnobee.com or (559) 622-2416.

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