California’s high-speed rail project is ready to get moving, now that Surface Transportation Board voted 2-1 that the California High-Speed Rail Authority can begin construction without having to wait for federal review. The decision was made on Thursday to start work on a 65-mile stretch between Fresno and Merced. The ruling comes after substantial lobbying by advocates including California governor Jerry Brown, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, and labor unions that hope the project will bring jobs to the area. However, there were still those such as the Chowchilla Elementary School District, representatives of Kings County, and lawmakers from other states who held the view that government review was still necessary.
California is receiving $3.5 billion from the Federal Railroad Administration for the high-speed rail infrastructure. Thirteen members of the state House see this funding as one of the prime reasons to allow for more time to review the proposal. Earlier in the year, the Surface Transportation Board determined that they had authority over the plans, and decided this week that they would go ahead without federal approval in order to reduce regulatory barriers, shorten time citizens would have to wait for high-speed transportation, and increase interconnectivity with Amtrak.
“We need not revisit the determinations on the viability and desirability of the project already made by…various federal state and local government interests, all of which have a stake in the matter,” said the Board’s supporting members. “The information before us confirms that the project would be a valuable addition to the passenger rail transportation system.
Meanwhile, some environmentalists are concerned over the 11 endangered species that would be impacted by construction as well as the pollution coming from diesel machinery for laying down the tracks. Many watershed areas fed from the Sierra Nevada would be crossed and potentially affected by the planned route, and hope that efforts to advance high-speed rail will take the health of the landscape into consideration. The final environmental impact report has been made available to the public for the Fresno to Merced corridor, and is able to be viewed on the California High Speed Rail Authority’s official website.
Via Clean Technica