HSR Construction May Be Delayed to 2013 By NIMBY Activity
Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee has the news that construction on the high speed rail project may begin in 2013, as opposed to this fall as originally intended. The reason: NIMBY complaints in the Central Valley have caused the California High Speed Rail Authority to make amendments to its EIR in order to address these concerns.
Construction of a high-speed train line in the central San Joaquin Valley was supposed to start late this year. Now, officials say, it’s not likely to start until early 2013, even if state legislators approve billions in bond money this spring.
At its meeting Thursday in Sacramento, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will learn about an updated schedule for the $6 billion construction project.
The slowdown in the schedule is the result of revisions to environmental reports for the 120-mile Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the rail line — part of the backbone of a proposed 520-mile system of electric trains connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later extensions would add lines to Sacramento and San Diego.
About $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds earmarked for the project in 2010 and 2011 were based on construction starting by September 2012. But a 2013 start isn’t expected to endanger the funds, high-speed rail officials said, because the more important deadline is having the work completed by late 2017.
An environmental report for the track segment was issued last fall, but two months of comment and public hearings across the Valley attracted a slew of objections, including opposition in Kings County to a route that would take trains through farmland east of Hanford.
That uproar prompted rail authority engineers to withdraw the environmental report in order to revise it with a new alternative that bypasses Hanford to the west. The authority expects to issue the revised draft report this summer, triggering another round of public hearings and comment, months after the authority originally expected to have a final version approved.
The CHSRA didn’t have to propose any changes at all. They could have plowed right ahead. But in an effort to be responsive to community concerns, they are taking the time to revise the EIR and propose the West Hanford bypass option. That still doesn’t make the NIMBYs in Kings County happy, but it is a sign that the CHSRA is genuinely interested in finding ways to accommodate concerns – within reason, and as long as doing so doesn’t actually undermine or block the project, as so many NIMBYs want.
The delay is unfortunate, especially for getting thousands of badly-needed jobs to the Central Valley. But neither is it a serious problem. The federal government has given its blessing to the delay, and it is not expected to affect the completion of work by the end of 2017.
Of course, we can still expect HSR critics and opponents to paint this delay as a sign of weakness or severe flaws in the project, even though they themselves are responsible for it.