High-Speed Rail

Madera Co. board favors Hwy. 99 rail route

Madera County supervisors cast their lot Tuesday for a high-speed rail route along the Union Pacific rail line and Highway 99 between Fresno and Merced as the least disruptive for county farmers.

The 4-1 vote puts the county at odds with its two incorporated cities, Madera and Chowchilla. Both city councils oppose the Highway 99 route. They back a route along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail tracks in the countryside a few miles east of Highway 99.

The Madera County Farm Bureau, however, opposes the rural line in favor of the Highway 99/Union Pacific route through the cities.

Both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern lines are under study by the California High-Speed Rail Authority as potential routes for high-speed trains linking the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, through the San Joaquin Valley.

Supervisors also advocated Highway 152 as an east-west rail connection from the Valley to the Bay Area west of Chowchilla, instead of options along county roads that would consume more farmland.

In two separate votes last year, supervisors supported routes that follow existing transportation routes, and supported Highway 152 as a viable east-west route. Tuesday's action goes beyond those by stating a specific preference for Highways 99 and 152 for the high-speed train routes.

"My concern is if we don't address one alternative, we're going to end up with something we don't want," said Supervisor David Rogers, whose district encompasses northwestern Madera County, including the city of Chowchilla.

The board also wants the rail authority to fully compensate cities and businesses for the effects of the rail system, including businesses that might have to relocate or building street overcrossings to avoid closing roads along the route.

Supervisor Ronn Dominici said he voted no Tuesday because he opposes high-speed rail coming through Madera County at all.

"I don't want either agriculture or our cities hurt," Dominici said. "I believe high-speed rail is only a minus to our county. That is the way I feel about it."

But Supervisor Max Rodriguez, whose district includes northern and eastern parts of Madera as well as rural areas east of the city, said the issue is not whether to build, but where.

"We can take advantage of a new and unique opportunity ... and stand to benefit from a multibillion-dollar project," Rodriguez said. "We cannot afford to lose out by bickering or debating matters that are inevitable."