President Obama Plans to Streamline HSR Approvals
Just one day after the FRA announced it had given its final approval to the Merced to Fresno high speed rail segment comes big news that President Obama will announce a streamlined review for the Fresno to Bakersfield high speed rail section:
As part of his “We Can’t Wait” initiative to speed development of major transportation projects, the president is directing the Federal Railroad Administration to finish its environmental review of the 114-mile section by October 2013. That, according to a White House statement, could shave as much as six months off the process, “enabling the project to meet funding deadlines and an aggressive construction schedule.”
The announcement comes just two days after the FRA announced its approval of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s environmental review and route selection for another section of the project — the Merced-to-Fresno portion. The FRA approval came nearly five months after the state authority’s board finished its work on the environmental review….
Comments from this round, and planners’ responses or changes, will be wrapped into a final version of the report that may be considered by the state rail authority’s board in early 2013. Today’s announcement by Obama appears aimed at ensuring that FRA follows suit with its decision-making in a timely fashion.
The president is also announcing today a similar directive for the Federal Transit Administration to speed up its permit and review decisions for expansion of the downtown San Francisco Ferry Terminal to July 2014.
This doesn’t mean that state or federal environmental rules will be bypassed, but that the process of going through those reviews will be expedited. Here’s how Michael Cabanatuan of the SF Chronicle explains it:
Federal officials plan to speed approval through what they call “intensive coordination” of state and federal environmental reviews.
There’s not much to say about this decision other than to praise it. Environmental review is important, but it doesn’t need to take as long as it sometimes does. In the meantime, jobs that could be created aren’t, and workers sit idle. That makes a difference to Fresno, which today was ranked as California’s most impoverished metropolis. The need for a streamlined review is clear.
Voters, state legislators, and Congress have approved the funding for this section of the high speed rail project. It’s time to start building. With strong leadership from President Obama and his administration, construction is on track to begin from Merced to Bakersfield next year.
I can’t wait.