Four years ago, the California High-Speed Rail Authority was sued over its choice of a route from Fresno to Bakersfield that included a station in downtown Bakersfield and tracks entering the city from the west.
On Tuesday, the rail authority’s board voted to approve a new route developed in collaboration with Bakersfield city leaders that approaches the city from the north and establishes a station north of downtown.
The new route is the result of a legal settlement of the city of Bakersfield’s lawsuit over the original plan adopted in 2014. The city dropped its lawsuit in December 2014 after leveraging a commitment from the state to work jointly with the city on developing an alternate route to avoid several sensitive or historic resources west of downtown.
The action includes two separate 5-0 votes by the board – one to certify a supplemental environmental analysis of about 20 miles of the route from north of Shafter to 34th and L streets in Bakersfield, and a second vote that formally adopts the route.
The authority’s planning staff said Tuesday that the new route alternative will affect fewer homes, businesses, farm acres and parks than the original plan. Mark McLoughlin, the agency’s environmental services director, added that the route will also cost about $200 million less to build than the original option.
“Today’s decision by the board of directors reflects the successful partnership between the authority and our regional partners to find a path forward in bringing high-speed rail to Bakersfield,” said Dan Richard, the rail authority’s board chairman, in a statement issued after the votes.
Not everyone is necessarily convinced that the new route option and station location are the best – including Terry Maxwell, who was a member of the Bakersfield City Council in 2014 when the city voted to sue the rail authority over the previous route approval.
“If knew then what I knew today, I would not have voted to sue,” Maxwell told the board during public comments Tuesday. “You got it right in 2014 and we got it wrong.” Maxwell said a station located along Truxtun Avenue near Bakersfield’s existing Amtrak station makes more sense because of its proximity to other transit options and the abundance of downtown businesses than the new site on F Street.
Maxwell said bypassing Bakersfield completely would help the state reduce the cost of the rail system and minimize the effects on businesses, farms and homes in the city. But, he added, “if you want to put a station in Bakersfield to generate ridership and economic impact, there’s only one place to put it: Truxtun Avenue.”
Prior to the votes, Richard asked the staff to work with farming interests to reduce the potential effects of the route on agriculture, particularly a 13,000-acre pistachio operation that would be divided by the rail line.
Also on Tuesday, the authority affirmed its preference for a route between Bakersfield and Palmdale as a future stage toward connecting sections now under construction in the Valley to Los Angeles.