There was no debate among City Council members here Tuesday over which route for the high-speed rail is best for the community, but the council held off on hiring a consultant for area planning.
The council voted 4-0 to support the plan to send the rail along Avenue 21 to Road 13, rather than two other options. The council also agreed it would hold off on spending about $50,000 on a consulting firm, which would look at the best way to mitigate negative impacts.
Councilman Dennis Haworth was absent.
After hearing from Chowchilla residents during meetings earlier this year, it became clear that the Avenue 21 to Road 13 plan had the most support, according to city records. City Administrator Brian Haddix also said that plan would protect the northwest corner of where Highway 152 meets Highway 99, which has drawn some interest for development.
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The only member of the public to speak during Tuesday’s meeting, Constantino Herrera of Chowchilla, said he supported the plan, saying he believes it would go a long way toward clearing up uncertainty among developers. “I think it’s going to open up new avenues,” he said.
Haddix asked the council to let him begin the process of hiring a consulting firm, but council members said they were hesitant to spend the money. Though the council has picked a preferred route, it remains unclear which will be identified by the state High-Speed Rail Authority.
Mayor Pro Tem Waseem Ahmed said he would prefer to receive the authority’s decision before finding a consultant.
Councilman Richard Walker expressed some skepticism over the idea, pointing to the city’s general fund deficit of about $15,000, which city leaders plan to cover by dipping into reserves. “Can we really afford it?” Walker asked.
Other cities in the state have hired a consulting firm for area planning, but they typically pay for a firm with the help of a grant.
Last week, Merced awarded a contract for station planning of more than $660,000 to a consulting engineering firm. But, last year, the city agreed to put $200,000 toward the effort in order to get a $600,000 grant from the state.
Haddix said hiring a consulting firm to study the impact to the area could put the city in the driver’s seat and help sway the authority to pick Chowchilla’s preferred route. He said he can find the money in the budget but hadn’t identified it before the meeting.
The council ultimately decided Haddix needed to find the money to hire a consultant before it would give him the go-ahead.
The council is set to consider the proposal again at the Oct. 27 meeting.