A potential east-west bullet-train route along Highway 152 in Madera County is being pitched by high-speed rail planners and engineers as the best option for a Y-shaped junction for the train lines near Chowchilla.
At their meeting Wednesday in Sacramento, California High-Speed Rail Authority board members will be asked to approve Road 11 and Highway 152 as the “preferred alternative” that will go through a detailed environmental analysis in the coming months.
It is being recommended over three other options for the Central Valley Wye, a junction to link the rail authority’s main north-south line from Merced to Bakersfield with an east-west line toward Gilroy and San Jose.
The Road 11/Highway 152 option emerged last year to be studied, along with Highway 152/Road 13, Highway 152/Road 19 and Avenue 21/Road 13 options.
As recently as 2012, the rail authority was contemplating as many as 17 different alternatives around and through Chowchilla, creating a virtual “spaghetti bowl” of lines on maps. In May 2012, when the rail agency approved its Merced-Fresno section, it carved the Chowchilla area from the approval to allow further evaluation of the wye options.
Since then, competing interests have advocated for different alternatives. The city of Chowchilla, anxious to avoid the rail line’s potential effects on a planned industrial park at its southern edge, voted in October 2015 to support an east-west route along Avenue 21 and a north-south leg along Road 13 west of the city limits.
Representatives from the unincorporated town of Fairmead, southeast of Chowchilla, also backed the Avenue 21 route because they said the Highway 152 options would run through the town to the detriment of residents’ quality of life there.
The Chowchilla High School District, however, has voiced a preference for alternatives along Highway 152 because it would present less disruption to its bus routes and because new grade separations would provide overpasses for county roads over both Highway 152 and the high-speed rail line.
A final choice on the wye route won’t be made by the board until after the environmental analysis is completed, following a public hearing, likely later this year.
But the rail authority’s staff says its preliminary assessment suggests that the Road 11/Highway 152 route “strikes the best balance among the project objectives, environmental impacts to natural resources and community concerns, and stakeholder input.”
Engineers say they believe that at $3.6 billion, it’s cheaper than other alternatives by between $100 million and $600 million.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers, 700 H St. in Sacramento. The meeting is open to the public. It will also be webcast online at www.hsr.ca.gov/Board/live_meeting.html.