The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 16, 2013

Eyes on the high-speed line


“Commerce tends to follow the transportation corridors, and the Central Valley has sort of been left out over the years,” said Al Smith, president of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. “We get thrown a few scraps … but this could change the whole equation.

“If you could jump on a train and be in San Francisco in an hour or an hour and a half, you could almost commute. Or you might want to reconsider the location of your business.”

A few blocks away, Gary Lanfranco is being forced to reconsider the location of his business, and he’s not happy about it.

Lanfranco is the owner of the Cosmopolitan Grill & Tavern, one of 365 local properties that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is seeking to buy here for the railroad’s right-of-way. So far, the authority has come to terms or is in talks with 182 of them.

This is Lanfranco’s third go-around with the rail planners, and this time, he’s reluctantly negotiating to sell the property that has been in his family for four generations.

“My great-uncle came here in 1902 from Italy, and my grandfather came to this location in 1904. My son, Joe, is running the place now.”

Lanfranco, 67, is looking for a new location on the other side of the tracks. He fears he won’t be able to remain debt-free, and he knows potential sellers “smell high-speed rail money.” But he’s getting tired of fighting.

“The sleepless nights are terrible,” he said. “They have to end.”

Legislative approval — by a single vote — of the funds for the project in July 2012 gave the crucial go-ahead. The first construction contract, $1 billion for the initial segment now underway here, was signed in August, and the construction consortium opened its Fresno offices in September, though shovels won’t hit the ground for months.

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