Delay sought on Bakersfield high-speed rail path

The Fresno BeeJuly 23, 2012 

The state lawmaker who this month cast a deciding vote on funding for California high-speed rail now wants to delay a portion of the controversial project.

Despite early agreements to send the train through downtown Bakersfield, state Sen. Michael Rubio said Monday that the Bakersfield City Council, the Kern County Board of Supervisors and those who have participated in the project no longer support that route.

Instead, Rubio is asking the rail authority to "delay the project during the environmental impact review stage so that further consideration can be made for an alternate route that doesn't go through downtown," he said.

(To read more on high-speed rail, go to fresnobee.com/hsr)

Rubio's request would not affect the rail authority's plans for the first leg of construction -- from Madera to just north of Bakersfield. It would be part of the Bakersfield-to-Palmdale stretch.

"The Authority's plans do not foresee beginning construction of the Bakersfield to Palmdale section until 2014," Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in a statement. "Construction will begin, as scheduled, early next year on the first segment."

The agency approved its Merced-to-Fresno environmental documents in May and could start construction north of downtown Fresno by early 2013.

Last week, the rail authority released the project's Fresno-to-Bakersfield revised draft environmental review for two months of public comment. The report contains three possible routes from Fresno to Bakersfield.

Rubio said the high-speed rail should be routed south of Bakersfield where it would have the least impact on businesses, agriculture and residents.

"It would also provide a better location for a station and links to Highway 99 versus downtown Bakersfield, which would cause a great deal of congestion," Rubio said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6495, blee@fresnobee.com or @bonhialee on Twitter.

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