At the Madera County Farm Bureau’s Annual Conference, the CEO of the California High Speed Rail (HSR), Roelof van Ark , came to discuss the affect the HSR will have on valley agriculture, focusing primarily on the issue of how the project will affect one of California’s key industries. Mr. Van Ark said in his speech that he felt it was essential to dispel myths associated with the rail and what impacts the project would have on various California industries.
Mr. Van Ark began by stating that it was decided that the first segment of the rail would be put in California’s Central Valley due to the fact that few other locations would allow adequate testing of the project’s capabilities. The high speeds associated with this mode of transportation require an initial testing ground with ample space to allow it to accelerate to an average of 120 mph. Currently, he explained, the project is moving through the EIR process and officials are still working on establishing the final route. Decisions on the ultimate course the train will travel are still being debated, an issue which has many homeowners and valley farmers up in arms.
Mr. Van Ark admitted that up to this point, outreach on the subject has not been adequate and would need to be stepped up in the future. Not only will the HSR work toward establishing better contact with valley stakeholders on the project in the future, but Van Ark pledged to develop an agricultural working group that will include farm industry leaders and individual farmers will be set up to facilitate communication. The HSR CEO has said he is very interested in keeping California’s agricultural industry growing and thus felt it necessary to develop such working groups in order to allow for regular open communication. Based on the project’s high speeds, at times going through prime agricultural land will be unavoidable as the turn radius required to maintain mph in excess of 180 leaves little room for sharp turns or close corners.
In addition to the agricultural controversy, issues such as funding from a state which already has a large amount of budgetary issues is a major issue as well, something that has been noted throughout commentary on a number of articles in online valley publications. Fortunately for the project, a large fraction of the cost for the initial project will be coming from Federal Government. This amount may be bolstered with the funds rejected by the state of Florida, a state which has elected to reject funding for their own High Speed Rail. In order for the project to be feasible, the project’s CEO admitted there will need to be a substantial commitment from the federal government before the private sector will truly follow. One of the steps of the HSR Authority is value engineering, which is currently occurring. It is the goal of project decision makers is to maximize each dollar spent on the project.
Once the project is completed, it promises a more competitive alternative to driving and flying, particularly in the valley where flying is especially costly. Of essential importance to the valley is the fact that fewer cars will be on the road, potentially reducing the contribution to the poor air quality the valley is so well known for.
The project is scheduled to complete its EIR begin the next phase shortly. RFQ’s will likely be issued in Spring and RFP’s are likely to be out by the year’s end.