CA High-Speed Rail Authority Certifies EIR for Fresno-to-Bakersfield Segment

Click on the image to go to a higher resolution pdf. Image via California High Speed Rail
Click on the image to go to a higher resolution pdf. Image via California High Speed Rail

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) Board voted unanimously today to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the project segment between Fresno and Bakersfield in the Central Valley. This section of CAHSR can now move to the “final design” stage that precedes construction.

This is the second segment of the project to have its individual FEIR approved; the segment between Modesto and Fresno was certified in May of 2012.

The two-day board hearing in Fresno featured some contentious and emotional comments from the public, both in support and in opposition to the project. Local farmers who would be directly affected by construction or operations of the system worried that they would not be fairly compensated for loss of their land. Several board members expressed sympathy for those individuals, but then went on to talk about the “greater good” presented by high-speed rail.

Board member Tom Richards pointed out that the project would mean the loss of “less than 1/10 of 1 percent” of agricultural land in the valley. In contrast, said Chair Dan Richard, the state estimates that “over 33,000 acres will be lost to future development within the counties of King and Tulare.”

High-speed rail “will be a tremendous boon for the Valley,” said Richard, “and the benefits tremendously outweigh the costs.”

Several Fresno State University students spoke in support of high-speed rail through the valley, including one student who said her original plan had been to earn a degree and move away. Now, “because of high-speed rail, I plan to stay,” she said. Her testimony and that of another student who called high-speed rail the “next logical progression for transportation in California” were highlighted by board members in their closing remarks.

Some speakers raised concerns about valley fever, a sometimes serious illness contracted by inhaling spores that normally live in the soil in the Central Valley, but can become airborne when construction or farming activities disturb the soil.

Richards proposed an amendment to the EIR that would incorporate several construction design safety features to protect workers.

Construction plans include requirements to control “fugitive dust emissions,” according to Andrew Bane, the environmental manager on the project’s program management team. To keep dust to a minimum, construction must be suspended if the wind exceeds 25 mph, the construction sites will be sprayed with water to keep dust down, and trucks will be washed when they leave the site.

Air quality in the areas around Fresno and Bakersfield is among the worst in the country, due to a wide range of factors including particulate matter from diesel trucks and farm equipment. Although the construction health safety plan proposed in the amendment would provide some measure of safety for workers, it’s unclear whether it would also protect others.

When board member Thea Selby asked whether the plan would protect local school children, Bane reassured her that the construction plan contains a “net-zero” emissions goal during construction, with any emissions, including for “fugitive dust,” to be mitigated near the areas that are impacted. He did not provide details in his testimony about what those mitigations would include or how they would be applied “in proximity to the impacted area.”

Next up for approval is the draft environmental impact report for the Central Valley Wye, a junction near Chowchilla from which high-speed trains would head west, north, and south.

  • gobluth

    Really sad to see there’s no Bakersfield bypass alternative. The city government has already made clear they don’t want high-speed rail, why slow down every single LA-SF train (which will make up the vast majority of ridership) just to serve the ‘downtown’ of a satellite city that doesn’t even want HSR? The CAHSR Authority is already struggling in court to prove they can make the proposition-mandated 2:40 between SF and LA – every minute counts. The Tehachapi vs. Tejon debacle is even more depressing: a 40-mile, multi-billion dollar detour to serve a couple of desert exurbs. Just sad.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    For reference of others, here is an outstanding overview of the Tejon/Palmdale HSR routing scam, documented in excellent and unrefuted detail by Clem Tiller:
    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2013/06/the-truth-about-tejon/

    Scratch just a little deeper and one will find that the rest of CHSRA’s route decision-making (Bay Area via Pachecho pass, 220mph mainlines through Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield) and technical decision-making are similarly appallingly unprofessional, uneconomic, and anti-environmental.

    America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals … enriching, well, themselves. Heckuva job, Parsons Brinkerhoff!

  • Joe Linton

    What’s the expectation regarding a timeline for construction? operation?

  • millbrae

    if you build it, they will come.

  • Vast majority of ridership? Look at the plan, youre wrong.

    And you propose screwing a city out of 100 years of access because of some politician today? Thats insane.

  • Mike

    Richard Mlynarik, Clem Tiller

    Please take this to the NBC 11 Bay Area investigative unit. They are currently exposing questionable accounting practices at Samtrans. You guys have great technical expertise on these issues NBC 11 needs to know the lowdown on CBOSS and all the other unprofessional crap going on there before they completely bankrupt the peninsula transit system.

  • mtracy9

    The only thing you can get our right-wingers enthused about spending
    money on is for military adventures in the Middle East. For the $2 Trillion
    we’ve blown off on the Bush/Cheney wars, we could have had HSR all across
    the country.

  • mtracy9

    They are already there. California is one of the densest
    population areas in the country

  • NQGriggs

    The planned HSR corridor here happens to have near identical population density to the Paris-Lyon TGV corridor, the most profitable HSR line in the world.

  • rickbynight

    True, except that the corridor is under 2 hours and a much straighter track than what we’re proposing here. I’m scared our politicians will botch it up with a 3-4 hour multi-stop trip with windy tracks that don’t let trains get up to full speed. Then the service will lose a substantial amount and the naysayers will prevent us from ever building HSR anywhere again. I really wish we sought some advice from a country that already has had HSR for the past 40 years.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Just to clarify, are they both correct when they say “less than 1/10 of one percent” and “over 33,000 acres”? I think 33,000 acres is about 50 square miles, so that would imply a total land area of about 50,000 square miles, or a region about 500 miles by 100 miles. That sounds plausible for the state of California as a whole, though maybe not for just agricultural regions.

    Perhaps “less than 1/10 of one percent” is looking only at the actual footprint of the tracks and immediate buffer zone, while the “over 33,000 acres” is looking at all the parcels that will be reshaped in some way by a track cutting through just the tiniest corner?

  • Nathanael

    On the whole, the route selection by CAHSR is entirely sensible, although it is quite bluntly driven by the raw political considerations of which areas support it and which don’t (and this is made quite clear in the reports).

    CBOSS, of course, is an abomination.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

High-Speed Rail Breaks Ground in Fresno

|
California signaled its commitment to high-speed rail with a groundbreaking today in Fresno. The ceremony, featuring a speech by Governor Jerry Brown, marks the official beginning of construction on the long-awaited train. It also puts California on track to be the first state in the nation to build high-speed rail. That depends on how you […]

San Joacuin Corridor Study Scoping Meeting

|
The San Joaquin Rail Corridor (defined by the State Rail Plan as the railroad infrastructure connecting Bay Area/Sacramento – Fresno – Bakersfield – Los Angeles) is a major transportation resource between Southern and Northern California. Caltrans, in cooperation with multiple local agencies located within 11 California counties, proposes to fund expansion of the existing rail […]

Appeals Court Lifts Bond Restrictions on CAHSR, Funding Picture Clears

|
A California Court of Appeals has removed the most significant legal impediment threatening California’s High Speed Rail project. The unanimous decision of the three-judge panel, rendered on Thursday, reversed Judge Michael Kenny’s Nov. 25, 2013 ruling, which had blocked the state from issuing bonds under Prop. 1A, the High Speed Rail Act of 2008. Justice Vance Ray, […]