California High Speed Rail Authority unveils new ‘hybrid route’

After reviewing extensive public comments and feedback from Central Valley residents and businesses, the California High Speed Rail Authority released a staff report recommending the “Hybrid Alternative” as the preferred route for the Merced to Fresno Section.

“This is an exciting step, moving us closer to initiating construction,” said Dan Leavitt, Deputy Director of Planning for the California High Speed Rail Authority.

“We have listened to residents, businesses and community groups and it is clear this route has the least impact on communities and is the most cost efficient.”

The selection of the preferred route advances the northernmost Central Valley segment toward construction.

Construction of this segment will generate thousands of jobs in one of the state’s highest unemployment regions.

Environmental Review and Analysis

The Authority began studying and evaluating potential routes for the Merced to Fresno Section, a corridor of approximately 65 miles, from 2001 to 2005.

Based on this analysis, five alternative north-south alignment routes were identified in 2010.

In August of this year, that list was narrowed to three routes, which were included in the Authority’s Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS).

Based on continued community feedback and further analysis, the Authority selected the “Hybrid Alternative” route, which combines elements of the other two routes identified in the Draft EIR/EIS.

The “Merced to Fresno Staff Recommendation: Preferred Alternative” report is available here.

Hybrid Alternative

The Hybrid Alternative generally parallels the Union Pacific Rail Road and State Route 99 between Merced and Fresno.

To avoid impacts to downtown Madera, this route travels east to be adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) corridor.

The station locations proposed along this route include downtown Merced between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and G Street and downtown Fresno at Mariposa Street.

It is estimated that the Union Pacific Rail Road/State Route 99 would have cost $1 billion more than the Hybrid Alternative and the BNSF route would have cost $500 million more.

The Board of Directors will receive a presentation from Authority staff on this recommendation at the regularly scheduled December 13, 2011 meeting in Merced and are expected to take action.

The Authority has recommended that this route be identified as the preferred alternative in the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), which is now being prepared and scheduled for release in early 2012.

There will be an opportunity for public comment at the board meeting and also following the release of the Final EIR/EIS.

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