Move over Highway 99, here comes high speed rail

FRESNO, Calif.

A busy stretch of Highway 99 could soon look dramatically different. Caltrans is preparing to demolish the existing lanes and rebuild the highway about 100 feet to the west. The plan is to make room for the high speed rail in between 99 and the Union Pacific train tracks.

Jeff Morales said, "In some cases we'll be running alongside 99, crossing over it, and in this case just because of the configuration with the freight tracks we actually have to move the road. It's a significant step, but it's just part of getting the entire system built."

Action News spoke with Jeff Morales, the CEO of the High Speed Rail Authority, in Sacramento right after the board approved an agreement to have Caltrans plan, design, and construct the highway realignment. The project is expected to cost nearly $226 million and take about three years to complete.

"It's a significant step," Morales said. "In the Valley what we'll see is a combination, we'll see entirely new dedicated rail right of ways, a new track, new structures all the way up and down the Valley. In other parts of the state we'll be utilizing existing track."

Moving the highway will also mean moving several businesses in the area. The owner of Madison Mobile Homes told us over the phone re-locating after 12 years in his current spot could be devastating, but he's still waiting to hear details from the rail authority.

Morales said, "This is part of what Caltrans will be helping do is identify the businesses that could be impacted, working through what those impacts will be, and working through how we deal with those impacts, either through relocation, compensation, or some combination of the two."

Funding for the relocation is coming from senate bill 10-29, which state lawmakers approved to pay for the first phase of the rail from Madera to Bakersfield. The long-term goal is to get riders from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over two and a half hours at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. But several groups have already filed lawsuits to try to stop the $68 billion project in its tracks.

The High Speed Rail Authority CEO told Action News, the planning process for moving Highway 99 will start in the next three to six months, and construction should be underway within the next two years.

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