High-Speed Rail

State oversight panel approves contract for high-speed rail land

The state Public Works Board agreed Tuesday to a streamlined process for acquiring land for high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley, easing the way for negotiations to begin with propoerty owners.

On a 3-0 vote at the state Capitol in Sacramento, the board adopted a standardized contract that the California High-Speed Rail Authority will use in negotiations with property owners along the proposed route from Merced to Bakersfield, as well as in the Bay Area and southern California.

The Public Works Board, which includes the directors of the state's Finance, General Services and Transportation departments, is in charge of buying land for highway, transportation and building projects for the state. Typically, each land deal comes to the board for its approval.

With 400 to 500 parcels needed for the first stretch of high-speed line between Madera and Fresno, and 1,100 or more parcels through the Valley, it would be cumbersome for the board to approve each deal individually. By approving the standard contract language, the board is delegating its oversight responsibilities to its executive staff under certain conditions.

Tuesday's vote clears the way for the authority to begin negotiating with property owners. The authority is considering bids from consultants who will be the agency's right of way agents, and could award contracts later this month.

Lawsuits are pending against the rail authority in Sacramento, however, with the aim of overturning the agency's approval earlier this year of its Merced-Fresno stretch. Opponents are asking a judge to issue an injunction to stop the authority's ongoing engineering and design work, bar the agency from awarding construction contracts and block its efforts to buy property. A hearing on the injunction will be Nov. 16.