Merced HSR Supporters Angry At Construction Proposal
In the wake of yesterday’s announcement that Madera-Corcoran be the starting point for HSR construction in California, project supporters in Merced, which was not included in the first segment, have expressed their outrage at the choice. Their primary concern is that the California High Speed Rail Authority staff assessment of the proposed starting point gave low scores to the Merced segment since it is not directly on the SF-LA route, but is the first stop on the spur north to Sacramento. This has Merced HSR backers worried that their station will be delayed to Phase II, which might not be built for some time.
One of the supporters who expressed their anger was Congressman Dennis Cardoza, a Democrat whose district includes Merced. Yesterday he sent out this fiery press release:
“This last-minute bait-and-switch tactic is a Thanksgiving Day fraud. It completely eliminates the Merced station, which is in violation of Proposition 1A, and completely eliminates the entire Northern San Joaquin Valley from Phase I,” said Congressman Cardoza.
“The Authority staff has never vetted the Corcoran-to-Borden route with the public, and instead has wasted the community’s time and good will with endless public workshops and meetings on the other routes. This deceit harms the long standing trust and support that the Merced community and others in the Northern Valley have provided. This will completely undermine future support of the project.”
The staff recommendation was expected to select the first route of the train: either from Merced to Fresno, or from Fresno to Bakersfield, which have been the subject of public discussion and staff analysis. Instead, the staff selected a hybrid route which runs between Corcoran and Borden (near Madera), eliminating Merced. Proposition 1A, which the voters approved in 2008, provides $9.95 billion in state bonds funds and requires a high speed rail station to be built in Merced.
“I have long advocated for the high speed rail project in California, but if voter intent is to be subverted in this way, it will certainly jeopardize the future passage of all bond initiatives,” said Congressman Cardoza.
“The staff recommendation is fundamentally flawed. Building the first leg of the high speed train from Corcoran to Borden turns a blind eye to the public’s concern over the lack of enough ridership to justify expenditure of billions of dollars and is a waste of public funds. What kind of ridership figures does the Authority expect to see with trains running between Corcoran and Borden? If this is how the system is going to be built, we need a full investigation of the process.”
In October the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $715 million grant to construct High Speed Rail with the requirement that the first phase of construction be in the San Joaquin Valley. In total, more than $4.3 billion is available in state and federal funds for this phase of the project.
“Simply put, the Merced-to-Fresno route is the superior choice. It achieves greater ridership and begins the core of the project, facilitating connections to Southern California, the Bay Area and Sacramento. The Merced-to-Fresno segment also has the offer of free land for the construction of the heavy maintenance facility at the former Castle Air Force Base. This would be the most prudent use of funding and the most logical location,” said Congressman Cardoza.
I can understand why Cardoza is upset, but these claims are unjustified. Merced has NOT been excluded from the project, any more than any of the other stations listed in the AB 3034/Prop 1A bond. Unless Cardoza can show evidence that Merced is losing its station, his claims that the proposed starting point for construction violates the bond is not accurate, and very unhelpful.
Another critic is the person who comments on this blog under the name “Castle Expert,” a longtime project supporter from Merced County. Here’s excerpt from their comments denouncing the construction starting point choice:
As a big time High Speed Rail supporter I am deeply troubled by this sneaky act of the authority staff. Madera to Corcoran was written on a cocktail napkin and was never ever vetted like Bakerfield to Fresno or Fresno to Merced. I first heard about this proposal last week at a San Joaquin rail meeting but when I went back to look it up the proposal the language approved by the voters of California and the crtieria for the FRA funding this site misses nearly all the criteria put forth by the bond measeure and the President….
The latest rumor I have heard is that Cardoza is going to call for a full blown Congressional investiagation and he is going to contact FRA about freezing the money coming to California until this sham is corrected. I can hardly wait for people to see this route I would love to go on Rush Limbaug and show him what people are getting for their stimulus money a track to nowhere.
How does this selection build the spine when it does not even biscet the middle of the valley. If you live in Merced, Modesto or Sacramento you were just duped by the promise of HIgh Speed Rail. Anyone that lives in these areas is going to be missed altoghter or built sometime is 2020 or later if ever. I hope this board overturns this terrrible and illegal use of the tax voters wishes.
Again, I can understand why Merced HSR supporters are unhappy with the choice. However, I don’t believe this outrage is justified – and in fact it will deal a much greater blow to Merced’s HSR hopes if it is sustained.
I can understand why Merced is concerned about what has happened, since it opens the door to Merced being kicked down to Phase II. I don’t necessarily think that’s guaranteed, and I’m open to building to Merced as soon as we can.
However, the best way to ensure that Merced gets nothing – and to alienate other HSR supporters – is to use this to attack the project as a whole. If Merced does that – if, for example, Cardoza uses this to join Republicans in an investigation or trying to take back HSR money – it sets up an adversarial situation where the rest of the state has to fight Merced for the sake of the project’s survival. The result would be hostility to Merced, and much less support for Merced’s desire to be included in Phase I.
Look at the Peninsula. When cities there started attacking the project because they didn’t get their way, many project backers became hostile to their concerns. When the stimulus money went to the Valley, many backers saw it as a welcome case of “screw you” to those Peninsula critics. Maybe not the best reaction, but an understandable one.
I would also suggest making a clear case for why Merced deserves to be on Phase I. I personally support it, but we need Merced itself to make that argument. After all, Merced is not directly on the SF-LA route, so it can be easy for others to argue Merced isn’t a priority. Show people why it is.
Finally, Congressman Cardoza needs to step up his efforts to secure more federal funding for the project – which is by far the most important thing needed to bring HSR to Merced quickly.
Let’s be very clear here: Merced has been strongly supportive of HSR. They should continue that support if they are to bring the bullet trains to them in the near future. The only thing they’ll get from an adversarial approach to this choice is further delays in getting what they want.
UPDATE: Just to reemphasize that I don’t believe Merced should be cut out of Phase I, nor do I believe that’s what is happening here. My point is that if Merced is worried, the best way they can ensure they get HSR as quickly as they can is to work with other supporters, instead of turning to the dark side of HSR criticism.