On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a record of decision that cleared the way for construction to begin on the 114-mile section of the California high-speed rail project between Fresno and Bakersfield. In 2012, the FRA issued a record decision for the 60-mile segment between Fresno and Merced. Together, these two decisions permit the California High-Speed Rail Authority to move forward building the project's full "initial construction segment" between Merced and Bakersfield, a 174-mile stretch through the Central Valley that will eventually be the spine of the 800-mile statewide high-speed rail system connecting the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions in less than three hours, and extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996. The record of decision for the tier 1 program-level environmental review for the full statewide system was issued in 2005. The ROD for the first tier 2 project-level environmental review for the segment between Merced and Fresno was issued in 2012 and now the second tier 2 project-level for the segment between Fresno and Bakersfield has been issued thus completing the federally-required NEPA work for the project's initial construction segment.
Upon completion of the initial construction segment, the Authority estimates the new intercity rail operations between Merced and the San Fernando Valley, which are planned to commence in 2022, will generate sufficient ridership and revenue to attract private-sector capital to assist in financing later expansions of the system. In the first year, this new service will allow the state to avoid more than 130,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the atmosphere - the equivalent of taking more than 23,000 personal vehicles off the road. The multi-billion dollar will also create thousands of jobs and help better connect fast-growing communities in the Central Valley to the major economic centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
More after the jump...
In the ROD, the FRA chose as the preferred alternative a route with several alternative alignments including "portions of the BNSF Alternative in combination with the Corcoran Bypass, Allensworth Bypass, and Bakersfield Hybrid alternatives" (see map below). The FRA preferred these alternative alignments because "they are more compatible with the long-range development planning goals of the region, and will result in fewer potential impacts on wetlands and special-status species habitat," as well as surrounding property owners and religious facilities compared to other alternatives.
"FRA's decision reflects the balancing of different considerations including environmental, technical, economic, operational, as well as community and other stakeholder input. FRA and the Authority carefully considered the potential adverse and beneficial environmental and community impacts that could result from the selection of the various alternatives. This decision also reflects the significant outreach and consultation with local stakeholders and communities conducted by the agencies."
Download the ROD here.