High Speed Rail gets environmental OK
November 21, 2019 | View PDF
The California High Speed Rail Authority has recently completed the Environmental Clearance for the final 23-mile route between Shafter and Bakersfield. This clearance completes the state’s environmental review process between Fresno and Bakersfield and allows the authority to move forward with project construction into Bakersfield.
This is the first major environmental action taken under the newly granted federal National Environmental Policy Act, and emphasizes the authority’s commitment to accelerate the project under the new executive leadership.
Questions were arising under the old leadership about the commitment that the Authority had about completing the project, with delays impeding the progress of the project for the past two years.
High Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said that he is looking forward to the next phase of the project. “I am proud of the combined efforts that went into the process and we are prepared to move forward on the project implementation into Bakersfield, together with our local partners and this collaborative effort.”
The process has not been a swift or easy one. In the process of finalizing the environmental document that clears the way for the next phase of the project, the authority held over 100 stakeholder meetings and numerous public workshops, as well as 15 monthly regulatory agency coordination meetings.
The new document evaluates potential environmental effects of the locally generated alternative, which was developed through city and state collaboration.
The City of Shafter had taken the authority to court as they opposed the original route that was chosen, which it said would have negatively impacted the city and its residents. The city was successful in its bid to have an alternative route adopted.
The original route would have run parallel to the existing BNSF freight line that already runs through Shafter and intersects in seven different points of the city. The early proposal would have run the train along a similar route but on a raised viaduct, which would have hindered the city’s ability to make future changes to the freight line by essentially creating a barrier.
The section receiving clearance extends from Shafter east towards State Route 99 and the existing railroad tracks, then head south into Bakersfield, ending at a station that will be located on F Street in downtown Bakersfield.
The authority will be releasing six other remaining documents for public comment, on a schedule to complete the process before a December 2021 deadline.
The next document that will be completed, by January, is expected to cover the section of the project from Bakersfield to Palmdale.