High-Speed Rail

Assembly transportation chairman eyes high-speed rail construction sites

Assembly Transportation Committee chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley (third from left) learns about construction progress on the Tuolumne Street bridge at Tuolumne and G streets in downtown Fresno for California’s high-speed rail project on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.
Assembly Transportation Committee chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley (third from left) learns about construction progress on the Tuolumne Street bridge at Tuolumne and G streets in downtown Fresno for California’s high-speed rail project on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. tsheehan@fresnobee.com

The chairman of the state Assembly’s Transportation Committee visited Fresno and Madera this week to get a firsthand look at high-speed rail construction less than two weeks before he conducts hearings on a new business plan for the passenger-train system.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, toured sites where crews are at work on major structures in the first 29-mile stretch of construction for a rail system that, if successfully completed, will connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric-powered passenger trains capable of traveling up to 220 mph. Stops on his visit included a viaduct being built over the Fresno River and Highway 145 east of Madera; a trench for high-speed tracks to burrow beneath a railroad line, irrigation canal and Highway 180 north of downtown Fresno; a new Tuolumne Street bridge in downtown Fresno; and a 3,700-foot viaduct to carry tracks up and over Cedar Avenue and Highway 99 at the south end of Fresno.

California’s high-speed rail plan faces a March 28 hearing before the Assembly Transportation Committee.

“Like many voters in California, I voted for this project,” Frazier said Wednesday afternoon as he watched work on the Tuolumne Street bridge. “As chairman of the Transportation Committee, I’ve come here to tour the facility to see progress.  We’re going to be looking, as an oversight component, at where high-speed rail is, how we can be of help, what are the roadblocks, and to make sure that what the people asked for in their vote is being accomplished.”

Frazier said his committee’s March 28 hearing in Sacramento will focus on a draft 2016 business plan released last month by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“My focus is to come down and see (the work), and then be able to read (the plan) and get a more comprehensive feel as we go into the hearing,” he said.

The hearing will examine the authority’s pivot, described in the business plan, from planning for initial passenger-carrying operations from the San Joaquin Valley to the Los Angeles Basin by 2022, to instead concentrate on development of operations from the Valley to San Jose by 2025.

“We’re going to let that be vetted  Why the process occurred, if commitments are still going to be completed through Southern California” with existing agreements, Frazier told The Bee. “We’re going to look at that whole opportunity and see why, what, when, where. That’s the purpose of the hearing.”

In prior committee hearings, discussions about the high-speed rail program have been sharply divided along partisan lines. The committee’s roster includes 11 Democrats and six Republicans.

Frazier sidestepped assessing committee members’ sentiments over the $64 billion rail project.

“That’s why we’re doing the hearing, so they can have an opinion and get educated on what’s going on,” he said. “I want to encourage committee members to come down  and get a clear understanding of the whole process.”

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