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By California High Speed Rail Authority
BY TIM SHEEHAN Fresno Bee
The high-speed rail report released Tuesday that recommended a so-called purple route through Bakersfield also recommended that the track alignment skirt Hanford's western edge through Kings County.
The authority's board will receive a report about the proposed route when it meets Thursday in Fresno. The board is not expected to formally vote on a preferred route until May.
HOW TO ATTEND -- OR WATCH ONLINE
What: California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting
When: 10 a.m. Thursday
Where: Fresno City Council chambers, 2600 Fresno St. Teleconference sites are at Sacramento City Hall, 915 I St., and the State of California building in San Francisco, 455 Golden Gate Ave., Room 14000.
Details and information on how to view the meeting online are available at cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.
The Fresno-Bakersfield section is part of what the authority describes as the initial construction portion of the statewide high-speed rail system. The authority hopes to begin building a stretch between Madera and the south end of Fresno later this year.
The line through the central San Joaquin Valley would be the backbone of a system that ultimately would connect the Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin with high-speed trains.
The Californian reported Wednesday that the track alignment through Bakersfield would spare some local landmarks, but others are in the project's path. The prospect of demolishing property along the route has long been unpopular here.
Among those that would be affected by the purple line are the Bakersfield Homeless Center and Mercy Hospital.
Bakersfield High School, which is home to some historic architecture, would be largely bypassed, as would some properties in Shafter and Wasco.
The recommended Fresno-Bakersfield alternative calls for the line to be built below grade through an area west of Hanford. It includes a passenger station east of 13th Avenue and north of the existing San Joaquin Valley Railroad line between Hanford and Armona, in addition to stations in downtown Fresno and downtown Bakersfield.
Between Fresno and Bakersfield, the rail line is proposed to generally follow the BNSF Railway freight tracks that are now shared by Amtrak passenger trains.
There are certain stretches, however, where the high-speed route diverges from the BNSF right of way, either to avoid running directly through communities or where following the freight line creates turns that are too tight to accommodate high-speed trains.
In late 2011, the rail authority proposed a route that carried the tracks east of Hanford, drawing the ire of farmers and homeowners whose property would be displaced.
In reaction to the uproar -- and at the insistence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- the authority began to reconsider other options, including bypassing Hanford to the west.
Additional elements of the recommendation include bypasses for high-speed trains to avoid running through the communities of Corcoran, Allensworth, Wasco and Shafter.
Mark McLoughlin, the authority's deputy director of environmental planning, said in a memo to the agency's board that the preferred option creates fewer environmental effects on natural resources, farmland, businesses and homes than other alternatives that have been studied.
The cost of the Fresno-Bakersfield route being recommended by planners and engineers is estimated at about $6.8 billion.
"The estimated cost of the preferred alternative is about $800 million less" than the original BNSF option "and is the lowest cost alternative" from among 72 possible combinations of alternatives, McLoughlin said.
He added that the recommended option "minimizes constructability issues that can lead to delay and cost escalation."
A staff report details that the recommended route would affect about 2,660 acres of important or prime farmland, compared to more than 3,100 acres with the original BNSF option with an east-of-Hanford bypass.
About 342 businesses and 325 homes would be displaced by the preferred alternative, versus 395 businesses and 451 homes under the original proposal.
Californian staff writer John Cox contributed to this report.