Plans for a Y-shaped junction for bullet-train tracks near Chowchilla and for an alternative route and tracks in Bakersfield will be up for discussion when the California High-Speed Rail Authority board meets Tuesday in Fresno.
The board ordinarily meets in Sacramento, but occasionally ventures out when its meetings involve issues of interest to different regions of the state. Tuesday’s meeting is likely to generate public comment from people in Kings County and other areas of the Valley where there is considerable opposition to the state’s plans.
The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at Fresno City Hall.
The Valley is a focal point for the rail agency because it represents the first area where construction is happening on what is proposed to be a statewide system of high-speed trains linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. The first substantial construction began this summer on an elevated viaduct, or bridge, to span the Fresno River and Highway 145 at the eastern edge of Madera. Jeff Morales, the rail authority’s CEO, said that six more major construction sites in Fresno will be active by the first week of January.
Litigation against the rail project is also concentrated in the Valley, particularly a lawsuit filed by Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford resident Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors. They filed suit against the rail authority in 2011 in Sacramento County Superior Court alleging that the statewide plan violates the 2008 bond measure that set aside nearly $10 billion for planning and construction. Attorneys for Kings County filed court papers Monday contending that the agency “unjustifiably ... ignored the evidence” in a 2013 draft presentation by Parsons Brinckerhoff, the rail agency’s principal consultant, which projected that the costs for an “initial operating segment” from Merced to Burbank would be considerably higher than the $31.2 billion projected in the authority’s 2014 Business Plan.
The Parsons Brinckerhoff document was the centerpiece of a recent Los Angeles Times report raising concerns about the costs, and prospect for delays, on the statewide project. The draft presentation was not made public by the agency until after the Times published its report last month.
A “trial” on the Kings County lawsuit – a hearing before Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny – will be held in February. The lawsuit claims that the rail project violates key provisions of Proposition 1A, the 2008 bond measure, because opponents believe it cannot meet requirements for a 2-hour-40-minute nonstop ride between San Francisco and Los Angeles; that a plan to share tracks with a Bay Area commuter-rail system varies substantially from what was promised to voters; and that it cannot meet the requirement for financial viability to operate without any public subsidy.
The rail authority has about $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds provided by the Obama administration, matched by about $3 billion in Prop. 1A bond funds. The state has also committed 25 percent of the annual income in cap-and-trade funds – money paid by industries for carbon pollution credits in California’s greenhouse-gas reduction program – to the rail project, potentially adding $500 million a year or more to the rail authority’s budget.
Correction: An earlier version said a court brief filed Monday on behalf of Kings County high-speed rail opponents sought to have a report by consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff included as evidence in the case. The state already agreed to include it in the court record.
High-speed rail discussion