Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a Record of Decision for one of the initial construction segments of the California High-Speed Rail Project, between Merced and Fresno in the Central Valley. This approval was the last major hurdle before construction can begin, which is now on target to break ground in 2013. Completion of the project's initial operating segment is slated for 2021.
Construction phasing for this project is complicated. The initial operating segment, 130 miles between Merced and Bakersfield, is comprised of four construction phases, two of which are between Merced and Fresno. These two construction phases are what are now cleared for construction. This work will entail constructing the spine, of what will ultimately be the statewide high-speed rail system, linking San Francisco and Los Angeles through the Central Valley in under two hours.
"It is a very big step and a very important milestone," Jeff Morales, chief executive of the rail authority, said. "It allows us to move forward in earnest." This approval grants the California High-Speed Rail Authority permission to move ahead with property acquisition, construction, and other related activities. The initial operating segment will allow Caltrans to extend San Joaquin service between Merced and Bakersfield, reducing travel times in this corridor by about 45 minutes. According to the Authority, over the course of construction, the project will create 100,000 job years of employment, or the equivalent of 20,000 full-time jobs.
In approving the project, the FRA selected the "Hybrid Alternative," which the Authority preferred, and the Downtown Merced Station and Downtown Fresno Mariposa Street Station alternatives. The Authority has said that the selected alternatives are the least expensive options and will have fewer environmental impacts than the other options.
Governor Brown signed into law the bill that will provide the funding for construction in July. The bill allowed the state to begin selling $2.6 billion in bonds, which unlocked an additional $3.2 billion in matching federal funds for the construction of the dedicated, high-speed rail tracks. The bill also invests over $1.9 billion in local transit and commuter rail projects around the state, including light rail transit systems in Los Angeles and San Diego, the electrification of the Caltrain system in the San Francisco Bay Area, new rolling stock on the BART system, and the implementation of positive train control technology. This money also leverages an additional $7.9 billion in federal and local funding for projects that aim to connect transit to the high-speed rail system.
The third and fourth construction phases, which are between Fresno and Bakersfield and still in the process of completing the federal environmental review process, have also made headlines recently. Last month, President Obama decided to fast-track this segment of the project, potentially shaving up to six months of of the approval process.