The board that oversees California's high-speed rail project endorsed a 114-mile route for the second segment of the bullet train from Fresno to Bakersfield during its meeting Thursday.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority board gave approval to proceed with the route, allowing the agency to request environmental and rail approval from federal officials.
The path now recommended by staff marks a turnaround from its previous choice for the segment near the Central Valley town of Hanford, home to some of the fiercest opposition to the $68 billion project. The board previously endorsed a route that would travel west of the town, but now is recommending that the bullet train go east of it.
Doug Verboon, chairman of the Kings County Board of Supervisors, which is suing the High-Speed Rail Authority over its plans, asked the board “not to make a mistake” by endorsing the proposal without sitting down to talk with county residents. He questioned why the rail line would not use existing traffic corridors such as state Highway 99 or Interstate 5, which would affect fewer landowners.
“The view from Kings County is that either of those transportation corridors would make a lot more sense than the plan that your staff is currently presenting,” Verboon said.
The board approved the western route in April but then agreed to retract it and allow more time for community input. Board Vice Chairman Tom Richards said he had hoped the agency could devise something to satisfy critics, but said there is no perfect option.
“I'm sorry that we cannot find an alternative that's acceptable to everyone, but I happen to agree that this was an appropriate choice,” he said.
Rail officials say further environmental reviews show that the eastern alignment will be less harmful to wetlands and natural habitat. It also is closer to Visalia, which has supported the project.
The route includes a train station in Bakersfield and a possible station east of Hanford if ridership warrants it. The plan still requires a host of approvals before it becomes final.