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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
The Forde Files No 94 

Fast rail: 'Permit-to-Enter process is your friend'

 


Now it gets personal.

The California High-Speed Rail (HSR) project that has hovered in the background as a hazy concept cooked up in Sacramento is about to become real for Tehachapi.

With heavy construction of the Merced-to-Fresno segment well under way, the Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment in initial stages of development and links to the bookend San Francisco and Los Angeles transportation systems in progress, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is hunkering down to find the right route over the most challenging portion of the entire 800-mile rail line – Tehachapi Pass.

“Where we are now is very conceptual,” Valerie Martinez, outreach manager for the 75-mile Bakersfield-to-Palmdale HSR segment, said in her presentation to the Tehachapi City Council on May 4, 2015 at the Wells Education Center board room.

The project is moving from concept to micro-view for the Bakersfield-to-Palmdale segment, she told the Council.

“We’ve been working at high level,” she said. A supplemental analysis planning document will be released this spring. Property owners will be asked to allow access to their land for environmental studies. The Authority will hold community meetings to gain feedback from residents and property owners.

The options for the route up the mountains from Bakersfield on the west side of Tehachapi are limited by the terrain and narrow canyon. On the east side of the mountains from the summit to Mojave, the Authority has identified three possible routes [see accompanying map]. The Authority has rejected the first alternative, Martinez said. The final route may be something else altogether as environmental and engineering studies produce a clearer picture. The ultimate route likely will be a refinement of alternatives two or three.

“We are trying to get a sense of it,” she said. “We are not into the details yet.”

As the studies “get down to the bugs and bunnies level,” she said, planners will factor in public concerns, industry – notably the wind turbines --, community plans, the city’s General Plan, previous permits, hiking trails and green space.

While the Authority , Martinez said, “is committed to a full range of alternatives,” construction of a high speed rail has to obey the laws of physics.

“We need to be straight and flat in order to hit our speeds,” she said.

In Tehachapi, the proposed route (with slight variations) comes within about a quarter mile north of the new hospital and runs over the Lehigh Cement plant property designated as its future quarry.

During the next six months, property owners in the area will receive Permit-to-Enter letters from the Authority, requesting permission to enter the property to carry out environmental studies.

“The Permit-to-Enter process is your friend,” Martinez said. “They might find a protected butterfly or beetle hanging out and there would be a need to adjust the alignment.”

The prospect of an HSR in your neighborhood can cause serious disruption in way of life, as residents of the Santa Clarita area learned recently. A thousand angry residents showed up at a meeting to express their displeasure at the proposed alignment that slices through their communities, requiring the demolition of two schools and other community structures. The vocal opposition might have been enough to force the Authority to look more closely at building a long tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains into San Fernando Valley. With the possible exception of a Tejon Pass route (which the Authority has rejected), there is no other realistic way for the rail line to get into southern California but over Tehachapi Pass.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has a comprehensive web site that answers most questions about the Permit-to-Enter process, eminent domain and property rights. The Authority provides advice and assistance in transferring loans for relocation and other complications of property acquisition. See http://www.hsr.ca.gov and type in key words.

 
 

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