It's a big green light for the project. The first segment from Merced to Fresno has already been approved. Now this clears the way for construction companies to start bidding on the next stretch, and for the rail authority to start buying property. But this segment, which crosses Kings County, is the most controversial section of the line and opposition remains.
Dan Richard, Board Chairman of the high-speed rail touted the economic benefits high-speed rail will bring to the Central Valley. "This will be a tremendous boon to the Valley and the benefits will far outweigh the costs."
Richard took pains to address the concerns by opponents, who expressed their views at a public hearing Tuesday night. "Well I hear people say high-speed rail is going to destroy agriculture in the Central Valley, well I'd like to put things in perspective."
"We are looking at across the 114 mile segment about 35 hundred acres of ag land that will be heavily affected. In the years between 2000 and 2008 the counties of Fresno and Kings converted 33,000 acres of land to development that's almost ten times the amount of land we are talking about for the high-speed rail land."
He noted that while the high-speed rail authority has successfully settled lawsuits in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties, lawsuits and complaints from Kings County remain. "I have to tell you, I'm not sure there's anything we can do that would be satisfactory there, I hope that I am wrong on that."
Jason Holder, an attorney, representing Kings County and families who are suing to stop high-speed rail indicated there might be hope. "I've been involved in previous litigation where the authority successfully resolved concerns of stakeholders so I think it's possible we can find some resolution."
"So there's hope for working things out with Kings County?" We asked.
"A glimmer of hope, I would say."
The board unanimously approved both the environmental impact report for the rail line and the project itself. Supporters in the audience applauded.
However, the vice chairman of the high-speed rail board, Tom Richards of Fresno, acknowledged the fight to get high-speed rail done, is far from over.
Tom Richards explained, "Well I think we've still got a lot of work ahead of us and we've still got a lot of people who object to the project and it's our job to try and move this project along to get more people to understand the importance of it to the Valley."
Groundbreaking on the first segment of the project between is expected to take place by late summer or early fall. The goal is to have high-speed trains running between San Francisco and Los Angeles, through Fresno by 2020. But lawsuits and political challenges, along with questions about how the estimated $68 billion project will be paid for remain.