President fast tracks High Speed Rail

FRESNO, Calif.

The President approved a plan to speed up getting the Madera to Bakersfield stretch of the system moving.

High Speed Rail is a divisive issue in the Valley and while supporters are thrilled, opponents are still working to derail the whole thing.

The President's plan would streamline the permitting process for the 114 mile section of the project which starts just North of Fresno in Madera County and runs South to Bakersfield. The White House says it will shave six months off the construction time.

"Well, that's great news for California. Definitely great news for the Central Valley," Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea said. Perea believes the Presidents move will bring thousands of jobs to the Valley even sooner.

Earlier this year the President dispatched Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Fresno to show his commitment and emphasize the projects job creating potential. In a statement from Washington today LaHood said, "This is good news for the local economy."

But there are critics. Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Atwater issued a statement saying, "It's time to focus on rebuilding our State's failing roads and bridges, we don't have the money for a train to nowhere."

Several lawsuits have been filed that could stall the project. Attorneys for the Madera County Farm Bureau convinced a judge in Sacramento on Friday to hold a hearing on their request for an injunction .

Farm Bureau Executive Director Anja Raudabaugh told us by phone from Sacramento it could stop the project in its tracks.

"We believe if the case is stopped by preliminary injunction the entire project will come to a screeching halt."

That's because the injunction could delay the project long enough to kill the Federal funding. The hearing on the preliminary injunction to stop the project until environmental questions are answered is scheduled to take place in November.

Perea believes the project will survive the challenges of the legal process.

"But at the end of the day you get to the end of that process and when you get to the end of that process, you start building."

In a related development, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday requiring the High Speed Rail authority to buy local equipment where possible.

The goal is to encourage any foreign train parts manufacturers to set up shop in California.

Construction on the first leg of the rail system from Madera County through Fresno to Bakersfield is set to start early next year.

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