High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail panel OKs station site funding

Cities that expect to have passenger stations for California's proposed high-speed train system will get help from the state to plan for development around the stations.

Meeting Thursday in Sacramento, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board approved putting up as much as $200,000 per station site. The board also approved guidelines for station-area planning.

In the San Joaquin Valley -- where the initial construction on the 800-mile system is expected to commence in 2012 or 2013 -- the cities of Fresno, Bakersfield and Merced all welcomed the financial help.

In a letter to the authority, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the assistance is "absolutely essential to cities like Fresno." She noted that the first construction is to begin between Fresno and Bakersfield.

"Under an accelerated timeline for construction of the Fresno station, it is essential that we have the resources necessary to complete work on our downtown station as quickly as possible," Swearengin said.

About two dozen stations are planned on the entire statewide system.

The money is intended to promote connections between local transit systems as well as what planners call "transit-oriented development" to encourage greater ridership on the high-speed trains.

"The goal of the authority ... is to have the local agencies go beyond the basics in design and development of their station area and plan for a greater vision that takes full advantage of this new transportation alternative," said Dan Leavitt, the authority's deputy director for environmental review and planning.

In its strategic plans for downtown, Fresno already is planning for development near its proposed high-speed train station, between Chukchansi Park and the historic Chinatown district, said Katie Stevens, the city's government affairs manager. A contribution from the rail authority, Stevens said, "would significantly help that process."

The funds cannot be used for construction. To qualify for the money, each city will have an agreement with the state authority in which the state will contribute up to 40% of the cost of planning, to a maximum of $200,000.

Although they welcomed the funds, Fresno and other cities across the state expressed concern over "one-size-fits-all" planning and development.

In a letter to the authority, Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd said Fresno should control the planning process for a station to allow for different types of nearby development, including entertainment, housing, dining and retail.

Leavitt said Thursday that the authority "recognizes the unique situation within each city's infrastructure growth and planning," and pledged that the state's role in planning would simply be advisory.

Armed with up to $9 billion from Proposition 1A, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008, and billions more in federal funding and other outside investment, the state high-speed rail authority hopes to have its 520-mile first phase operational by 2020. That line would be capable of hauling passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, through the San Joaquin Valley, at speeds up to 220 mph.

Later phases would ultimately add Sacramento, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego.

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