Local News

Tuesday, May 06 2014 04:42 PM

Bullet train construction could stop at city limits -- for now

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    By California High Speed Rail Authority

    An artist's conception of the bullet train speeding under the Tehachapi Pass.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board's likely approval Wednesday of the Fresno-Bakersfield bullet train route carries a faint ray of hope to those who fear it will bulldoze local landmarks, officials said.

That's because in addition to certifying the final Environmental Impact Report for the train line segment, the board will also consider a resolution saying the train won't come into Bakersfield.

For now.

The resolution, item No. 6 Wednesday, on day two of the board's meeting, states the board "recognizes the benefits of approving at this time only the portion of the Fresno-Bakersfield Section north of 7th Standard Road, and reserving the decisions on construction south of 7th Standard Road to a future date."

There's a good reason rail staff recommends approving the EIR and resolution, CHSRA Central Valley Regional Director Diana Gomez said in a briefing memo.

It's money -- or the lack of it.

"Staff's recommendation ... is made in recognition that the Authority, as of now, has not secured funding to build into Bakersfield," Gomez said in the memo.

In a letter May 1 thanking the rail authority for agendizing the resolution, City Manager Alan Tandy had asked the board to consider amending it to give the city "at least sixty (60) days written notice" before approving construction south of 7th Standard Road.

Tandy slammed the final EIR, however, writing it "continues to lack clarity and provide appropriate mitigation of impacts" to city assets including Rabobank Arena, McMurtrey Aquatic Center and the Mill Creek redevelopment project.

The existing resolution, he said Tuesday, is better than nothing -- a hopeful sign of improved relations with the rail authority.

"That's better than just proceeding. It doesn't create as great a cloud over the properties impacted as if it hadn't been done. I think it's a sign that at least the upper management is trying," Tandy said.

Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments, agreed.

"This isn't everything we asked for, but it is a good thing. We asked to further explore the idea of tying into the existing (Burlington Northern Santa Fe line) and essentially create a blended system that would tie into Amtrak," Hakimi said. "If several billion dollars magically appear from somewhere, the High-Speed Rail Authority will want to come further south, but they have committed -- or hopefully will tomorrow -- to engaging with the city of Bakersfield before they do that."

CHSRA Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lisa Marie Alley said if the board chooses to amend its resolution, it will do so at the meeting.

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