Congressional hearing on HSR convenes in Madera County

May 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure was held in Madera County, where significant opposition to the project remains.

Congressman Jeff Denham who represents the North Valley blasted the High Speed Rail Authority, claiming the project is off track.

"What we have here today in no way reflects the promise that was made in 2008 to voters."

Denham claims the rail authorities costs are too high the plans are too vague, and the promise of corporate backing have yet to materialize.

"Until we can have a full business plan we are not looking at appropriating any money. I'm going to work with my colleagues to make sure that money is held up until there is a full business plan and a private investor."

But Democratic Congressman Jim Costa, who launched the high speed rail project when he was a state legislator, suggested this was political.

"Many of the colleagues were for it before they were against it."

That includes Denham. Costa disputed Denham's claims and said the high speed rail agency has met its legal requirements and has a valid plan.

"They have worked and negotiated with farmers and farm organizations and they've got a business plan the General Accounting Office says is credible, both with ridership studies and cost analysis."

The head of the High Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richard told the panel the project has changed, cutting costs, and making route changes to accommodate critics.

"Over the last year we've developed a new vision and new approach to this program."

Farmer Kole Upton whose property could be affected by the train acknowledged the rail authority has done a better job of communicating, but said the big concern is how the train will be routed around Chowchilla.

"Things are improving but the bottom line is if they choose routes that are acceptable to our community."

Other critics included Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon, who claimed his counties concerns have been ignored, and South Valley Congressman Republican David Valadao who said he didn't see how a train carrying people and not products provide an economic benefit.

But supporters included members of the Local Iron Workers Union. Union representative Don Savory said, "We need the work. We need the money here. It's also going to clean up the air getting cars off the road, get people commuting up and down the valley on the train and it's also going to help the local economy with all the money it brings in. I mean, how can we say no."

Al Smith the chairman of the Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce, drew the only applause of the session, when he described high speed rail as a great opportunity for economic growth.

"We have been given the rare opportunity to put in place a project that will create thousands jobs. Billions of dollars in investment right here in one of America's neediest regions. I would be a shame if we don't make it work."

Funding for the first phase of the project is already secure and ground is set to be broken in Fresno in July.


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