High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail station planning gets boost

Fresno and six other cities on or near the first stage of a proposed high-speed rail system can dip into federal stimulus money for planning around passenger stations.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is inviting grant applications from Fresno, Merced, Hanford, Bakersfield, San Jose, Gilroy and Palmdale. Each city could receive between $400,000 and $700,000 for planning how development can occur in neighborhoods surrounding their proposed high-speed train stations.

The money -- which is in addition to state funds of up to $200,000 per city -- is intended to promote connections with local transit systems as well as what planners call "transit-oriented development" to encourage greater ridership on the high-speed trains.

"Station-area planning is an investment in a city's future that will benefit both the city and the statewide high-speed rail system," said authority chief executive Roelof van Ark.

How much money each city gets will depend on the cost of its planning efforts and a local matching contribution, either in cash or in-kind services.

Fresno already has started planning for development around its proposed train station, near the Chukchansi Park baseball stadium and the historic Chinatown district.

"Fresno is pleased to apply for station-area planning funding," Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said in a statement. "These funds will ensure that we can carefully and thoughtfully plan our station areas for the arrival of the statewide system."

Swearengin and other Valley officials are eager for the construction jobs and other economic benefits they believe high-speed rail will offer for the region.

The authority hopes to begin building its first section of tracks between Fresno and Bakersfield in late 2012 or early 2013. If more money comes in, the initial construction stage could extend to Merced.

Later sections would branch off that Valley backbone, reaching west toward the Bay Area and south into Palmdale and Los Angeles. Ultimately, the system would reach into Sacramento and San Diego. About two dozen stations are planned on the entire statewide system.