High Speed Rail employees move into Fresno

FRESNO, California

"We've got several hundred moving into this space to work here and work on one of the biggest public works projects in our nation's history, so it's a historic day," Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said.

The design and construction teams of Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons along with the engineering and management firms of PGH Wong Engineering and Harris and Associates will work out of the downtown offices.

Nearly two dozen employees are working out of the office so far. A spokeswoman with the High Speed Rail Authority says more employees are expected once the work starts to take off. She anticipates anywhere from 150 to 250 employees will work out of the offices, and up to 700 workers could come into Fresno when construction begins.

Jeff Morales, the CEO of the California Highway Rail Authority says the economic impact to downtown Fresno and the area will be huge.

"They're bringing in their families, shopping, eating, doing all the things are really just down payment of the economic benefits the city and region will see," Morales said.

Not everyone is excited. For hundreds of Fresno business owners, the clock is ticking to move out of their current location.

Gary Lanfranco owns the Cosmopolitan Tavern and Italian Grill on the corner of Fresno and G Streets in Downtown. His restaurant has stood at that corner for more than 100 years, but it also happens to stand on land the state needs to build the high speed rail.

Lanfranco has long been in conversation with the Rail Authority about what will happen to his restaurant, but he hasn't gotten the answers he wants.

"They've served me a 90-day notice, whatever that means," Lanfranco said. That was about two months ago. "They've left me in limbo and I have no idea when I will be leaving or under what conditions. But I know I'll be leaving."

The high speed rail project will span about 29 miles across Fresno, from Avenue 17 to East American Ave. County officials say more than 300 businesses will have to relocate or be affected by construction in some way.

"In some cases, we've been able to avoid impacts altogether," Morales said. "In other cases, we're working to get them moved into a new location so they can stay in Fresno, where they can continue to do their business."

Rail officials say about a dozen businesses have agreed to an offer from the state. Lanfranco is not one of them.

"I feel like they have no idea what it takes to replace what I have," Lanfranco said.

Lanfranco is making plans to move his restaurant to another location, preferably one in downtown.

"It depends if I get the right location and if I get enough money from the high speed rail to reproduce what I have," Lanfranco said.

No date has been set for construction of the rail to start. A ground breaking was originally planned for the summer, but the project encountered a delay. Morales said they are working to finish the project by 2018, as was originally planned.

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