The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 16, 2013

Eyes on the high-speed line


Opponents have sued to stop the project, calling it a boondoggle that will cost more and deliver less than promised in a $10 billion ballot measure approved by voters in 2008.

And they complain that starting the project in Fresno, in the middle of California’s inland Central Valley, means a “train to nowhere.”

The opponents got a big boost last month when a state judge refused to validate the planned sale of $8 billion in state bonds for the project and ordered the California High-Speed Rail Authority to rework its financing plan before spending any state bond money.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny did not order the authority to stop work on the first 29-mile construction section here. And he said the agency could continue to use federal money already granted by the Obama administration.

But the judge’s actions seem certain to slow the already-delayed project and may further erode waning public support for it.

Dan Richard, chairman of the high-speed rail authority’s board, said, “It is important to stress that the court again declined the opposition’s request to stop the high-speed rail project from moving forward.

“Additionally, the judge did not invalidate the bonds as approved by the voters. … Like all transformative projects, we understand that there will be many challenges that will be addressed as we go forward in building the nation’s first high-speed rail system.”

Here in the heart of the Central Valley, where the notice-to-proceed was issued in October on the first $1 billion construction contract, sentiments are mixed.

Political and business leaders say the high-speed rail project — and perhaps a major maintenance facility — would bring tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the impoverished Central Valley, where unemployment is nearly twice the national average. And they hope it can reduce the agricultural valley’s isolation from the prosperous high-tech, financial, and entertainment centers in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles.

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