A small contingent of high-speed rail supporters from Los Angeles spent Tuesday morning getting a firsthand look at construction in Fresno and Madera on the first stages of the state’s bullet-train project.
Jeremy Stutes, president of the nonprofit advocacy organization railLA, said the trek was an important part of his nonprofit’s effort to let people in Southern California know that the project is no longer simply an abstract plan on a map.
“It’s been real interesting to see high-speed rail rising from the ground,” he said. “We really see it as our future rising, and we’re really excited to be here and see what’s happening. … It’s hard to see when you’re in Los Angeles. It’s hard to visualize that this construction is rising here in Fresno and to get behind it.”
It’s been real interesting to see high-speed rail rising from the ground.
Jeremy Stutes, railLA president
Stutes and about eight other railLA members left Los Angeles’ Union Station on Monday aboard an Amtrak connector bus, which broke down en route to Bakersfield. That turned what would ordinarily be a 4 1/2 -to-five-hour bus/train ride into a seven-hour trip. There is currently no direct rail connection between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles, so travelers heading north must rely on bus connections before boarding Amtrak’s San Joaquin trains in Bakersfield to continue through the Valley to Oakland or Sacramento.
The organization has about 1,500 members on its mailing list, Stutes said, plus several thousand more followers for its social media accounts.
“We see rail as part of a transformational movement to get people out of cars and into different forms of transportation and really achieve the benefits,” Stutes said. “In Los Angeles, we have terrible traffic, so we benefit from having alternative modes of transportation to get across the state and to cities nearby.”
The sites the group toured Tuesday are all part of the first $1 billion construction contract awarded in mid-2013 to a joint venture led by Tutor Perini Inc. of Sylmar. That contract spanned 29 miles from Avenue 17 in Madera to American Avenue at the south edge of Fresno. Earlier this year, the contract was extended northward by about 3 miles to Avenue 19 near Madera’s Amtrak station at a cost of an additional $155 million.
A photographer with the group shot video and photos at the Fresno River viaduct on the eastern edge of Madera; a new bridge to span the San Joaquin River near Highway 99 at the Fresno-Madera county line; the Tuolumne Street bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad freight line and the future high-speed rail tracks in downtown Fresno; and a viaduct that will carry high-speed trains over Cedar Avenue and Highway 99 at the southern edge of Fresno.
“We’re shooting a documentary of how we got here from L.A. to Fresno,” Stutes said, “and also documenting what it’s like to tour the construction sites and really spread the message that high-speed rail is happening, that we’re 110 percent behind it, and we really need to figure out solutions to keep it moving forward in the future.”
Stutes and his group’s members were disappointed earlier this year when the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced that it was planning to run its first operational trains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Silicon Valley by 2025. Since 2012, the agency’s intention was to begin operations from the Valley into the Los Angeles basin, but the authority pivoted northward last spring with its 2016 business plan.
“When that happened, certainly we were frustrated,” Stutes said. “We were excited to get high-speed rail first. Now the Bay Area gets it first. But we understand that it’s more ready to build, that things are further along in the process. … We won’t get it first, but people are benefiting across the state and we want to stand behind the project.”
In downtown Fresno, Tuolumne Street is closed between G Street and Broadway Street while the Tuolumne Street bridge is under construction. G Street is closed under the bridge.
To the south, the intersection of Tulare and F streets is closed this week as part of repaving work associated with high-speed rail construction. The closure began Monday and is expected to continue through Friday.