Protesters clash with high speed rail supporters

FRESNO, Calif.

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It was a listening session, designed to hear transportation concerns and not a debate. While highway projects were discussed, many rallied outside with strong opinions on high speed rail.

Emotions ran high among supporters and opponents of high speed rail.

"We're gonna have to move because we have no home. How do you like it?"

Some opponents would rather see transportation dollars spent on the widening of Highway 99.

Madera Co. Supervisor, David Rogers said, "The high speed rail authority is a Bermuda Triangle in which all of the agribusiness that now exists could possibly disappear."

Fresno Co. Supervisor, Susan Anderson said, "It will connect the valley to the other ends of the state. It will put thousands of people to work."

Inside the mood was much calmer. A standing room only crowd heard Congressman Jeff Denham seek input on how to make transportation projects more cost-effective. Organizers called it a listening session rather than a public meeting.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R) Pennsylvania said, "When you have a more formal committee hearing people get five minutes, they read their testimony, the questions are limited because you have so many people trying to ask questions. This way you have a give and a take."

Over three-fourths of the people in attendance supported high speed rail. Congressman Denham believes money would be better spent on Highway 99 but did say high speed rail has a place in California.

"But it comes down to three basic things - on-time, under budget and off of ag land. It's very simple and we expect a very clear business plan that sets that up." Denham said.

The committee heard from local ag leaders disappointed by the lack of communication by the high speed rail authority.

Hanford land owner, Aaron Fukuda said, "They had moved that route in August and none of our homeowners had been contacted. None of the farmers had been contacted and yet their working on these routes."

Fukuda says the changed route now goes right over his home.

Congressman John Mica of Florida said he wasn't interested in debating high speed rail in California.

Ground-breaking on the first part of the $43 billion project is expected to take place next year in the valley.

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