High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail opponents seek traction in Valley

An artist's depiction of a high-speed rail train zooming past downtown Fresno.
An artist's depiction of a high-speed rail train zooming past downtown Fresno.

Kings County residents whose farms and homes lie in the path of proposed high-speed train tracks are taking their beef to Sacramento on Thursday.

Aaron Fukuda, one of the organizers whose rural Hanford home would be displaced, said he expects about two dozen people to descend on the California High-Speed Rail Authority's meeting.

Fukuda said he and his neighbors want to voice their displeasure directly to the authority's board members.

The Hanford trek to Sacramento reflects frustration over the route of the tracks through Kings County farmland. In recent months, frustration has festered into outright opposition to the entire high-speed rail project.

Fukuda and other organizers say that they've repeatedly asked questions and raised concerns to the authority's consultants and staff, but see few if any answers or results in return.

An exchange between Kings County Farm Bureau executive director Diana Peck and authority chairman Curt Pringle at the authority's May 5 meeting added fuel to the fire.

Peck complained about the disruption of farmland and a lack of coordination between the authority and county officials in planning for the first section of track, to be built between Fresno and Bakersfield.

"It's becoming apparent that our public testimony is providing no impacts to the design and planning of this project," Peck said.

Pringle said no county officials have been denied an opportunity to weigh in on the environmental and planning process. He added that there's been plenty of public participation, too.

"You can claim there's no public opportunity to express yourself, but guess what? You're expressing yourself in public," Pringle told Peck.

The Kings County concerns have spurred one statewide group to focus its own opposition messages in the Valley.

California High Speed Boondoggle began about two years ago in the Bay Area to fight aerial high-speed tracks on the San Francisco Peninsula. But the effort grew into broader opposition to the entire system.

The group has planted signs along Highway 43 in Kings County and Highway 99 near Chowchilla in Madera County. The signs, mounted on roadside trailers, declare that the proposed 800-mile system "looks like a high-speed train [but] smells like pork," or is a "train to Bankruptcyville."

Because the rail authority wants to begin construction of the system in the Valley by late 2012, "what we realized a couple of months ago is that the action is down there [in the Valley]," said Burlingame resident Russ Cohen, the group's website administrator.

Cost estimates run from $43 billion to upwards of $65 billion for the project, which would connect California's major cities with passenger trains running at up to 220 mph.

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