The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 16, 2013

Eyes on the high-speed line

(Continued)

The Federal Railroad Administration gave its approval for the first segment, north from Fresno, in late September.

For the second, 60-mile segment south from Fresno, builders had until Dec. 6 to submit their qualifications to bid. That “design-build” contract is expected to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion, with work supposed to start in summer 2014.

“We’ll have $3 billion of work underway by this time next year. That’s a serious commitment,” said Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

But those plans could be delayed or halted by the November court ruling.

By refusing to validate the sale of $8 billion in bonds, the judge opened the way for opponents to sue to block the sale of those bonds. The state had been seeking the court’s validation to prevent such suits, but Kenny said the state had not demonstrated that the bond sale was “necessary and desirable.”

Much of the initial funding for the construction is coming from the Obama administration’s stimulus money, including $3.3 billion for the initial Madera-to-Bakersfield segment, a stretch from 29 miles north of Fresno to 100 miles south of Fresno.

The court ruling allows work to continue with the federal money, but eventually, the state needs to contribute $2.7 billion of its own for that section, which is supposed to be finished by 2018.

And the ability to provide that state money may prove very difficult without access to the bond money.

Because the federal stimulus money must, by law, be spent by 2017 — and because it’s relatively easy to build through the open, flat land of the valley — the first high-speed train track in America is scheduled to be laid between cities few Americans have heard of.

Opponents scoff at such a “train to nowhere,” but Morales says it’s not unusual to start major transportation projects in the middle.

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