Fresno voted center of first leg of high speed rail

FRESNO, Calif.

The segment will run 54 miles from Corcoran to Borden -- an old rail stop south of Madera. That's the segment that a separate agency, the high speed rail "commission" recommended last week.

The decision is welcome news for Fresno, but not the entire valley.

Critics have called this first leg of the rail system a train to nowhere...but supporters say it's just the starting point for a line that will bring the state together...though right now, Madera and Merced are feeling left out.

Connecting Fresno to the rest of the state is only one reason Fresno County is pleased with the High Speed Rail Authorities decision to start the project in Fresno. The biggest selling point is jobs.

"We do know it's going to be thousands and so we're talking about thousands of Valley residents going to work so that's a big win too," Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea said.

County Supervisors Henry Perea and Susan Anderson spoke in favor of the project at the Sacramento hearing.

Visalia Mayor Bob Link also welcomed the project. "The Hanford Station will be a few miles from Visalia which has a population of 125,000 who are eager to be connected to High Speed Rail."

The first segment of line will run Southwest of Visalia, to Corcoran and North to the Madera County line. That's one place the plan is getting a cool reception.

"So at this point I would be delinquent as a city councilman or a Mayor to support a project we have no idea what the ramifications would be. We don't have a station," Madera Mayor Robert Poythress said.

Poythress says the fact the route through or around Madera hasn't been decided is a big part of the problem. Because the Madera alignment is undecided, the Rail Authority couldn't make the first leg run all the way to Merced.

That has Congressman Dennis Cardoza of Merced fuming. In a statement issued from Washington he said..."The process used to come to this decision was deceptive... This is not a good day for California or this project."

But Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno points out the Interstate Highway system started in remote rural areas. By phone from Washington he told us the entire Valley will soon benefit from the High Speed Rail project.

"Four and a half billion dollars is a big economic shot in the arm that will bring in a total of 135 thousand new jobs when you build both segments from Merced to Bakersfield, that's what we have to remember," Costa said.

This massive project still faces hurdles. But more than $4 billion in state and federal funds have already been allocated. There is a move by some republicans in congress to withdraw some of the federal money, but as it stands now, the money is there and there are two big conditions.

The project must start in Fresno and construction must start within two years. It's estimated the entire project linking northern and southern California will cost is more than $40 billion.

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