A Tale of Two Counties
Kings County is pulling out all the stops to try and block high speed rail. But its neighbor to the east, Tulare County, is much more supportive. Visalia leaders have been pushing hard for a stop along the HSR route near Visalia or Hanford. They have a strong case: the Visalia/Hanford metro area holds about 450,000 people and is the tourist gateway to the Sequoia-Kings Canyon national park area. Kings County and Hanford are willing to reject the significant economic benefits that HSR will bring to the area. Visalia and Tulare County want to embrace it.
That, along with the initial results of environmental and technical surveys, suggests that Visalia may be closer to getting what it wants as the Hanford East route appears to be favored now:
A published monthly report by URS Corp consultants, who advise the California High Speed Rail Authority on planning and engineering services to construct the rail line, suggests that the authority has decided to plan for a route through Kings County to the east of Hanford (the original plan) rather than west of Hanford as they announced this spring.
The consultants’ progress report says authority staff told URS, “In July 2013, further verbal direction was given to replace the Hanford West Bypass 2 Below-Grade Alternative with the Hanford East Alternative as part of the single PA (preferred alternative), and to explore options for adjusting that alignment to avoid or reduce impacts on the Baker Commodities facility.”
The change of heart may be due to two factors: The engineers only lately became aware of the high water table on the west of Hanford route; and secondly, never-say-die lobbying by the City of Visalia aimed at CHSRA board members themselves may have finally gotten their ear.
The Hanford East site does seem to make more sense than Hanford West, at least from the perspective of a potential HSR rider. It sits between Hanford and Visalia and although it is closer to Hanford, it would be easier and quicker to also get to Visalia and the national parks in the Sierra than if the tracks were on the west side of Hanford.
The ideal situation, of course, is that the station would either be in Hanford itself or Visalia. Downtown stations are generally preferable to greenfield stations, especially in the Central Valley. It makes transfers to other transportation modes easier and allows for urban density as opposed to new sprawl. But if the Visalia-Hanford area is to get a station, and I believe that should happen, then Hanford East does make the most sense.
It’s good to see that Tulare County’s efforts are paying off. Kings County leaders, by contrast, are waging a war on their economic future. Years from now they will regret their actions if they succeed in stopping high speed rail, as the San Joaquin Valley would be isolated from the economically productive coastal areas. But if HSR goes ahead, they’ll benefit in spite of themselves. Which is fine by me. I won’t hold a grudge while I’m speeding through Kings County relaxing on the train.