Governor Brown jumps on board high-speed rail

One massive job-generating project and another potential public works project are on their way to the Central Valley, Gov. Jerry Brown signaled in his State of the State speech. High-speed rail, which will generate thousands of jobs in the Central Valley and California, will break ground here this year, the governor said.

Additionally, the governor hinted that a possible multi-billion dollar canal to siphon water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to users south of the Delta could be on its way. Brown is a long-time supporter of the concept.

In his annual state of the state address to the Legislature Wednesday, the governor said that “by this summer we should have the basic elements of the project we need to build” referring to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

He also likened the high-speed rail project to such public works as the Panama Canal and the interstate highway system, initially derided and eventually highly successful.

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Ridership numbers for high-speed rail

Central Valley resident John Smedley expressed concerns at the Dec. 13 board meeting about projected ridership figures for High-Speed rail. For those who like to delve into these things deeply, Chapter 6 of the program’s 2012 business plan contains extensive – some might say excrutiating – details about ridership.

Earlier ridership estimates came in for a lot of criticism, so the rail authority did a rigorous peer review of the prediction model by international experts, interviewed 15,000 travelers and scaled back ridership projections in an effort to provide reasonable estimates.

The business plan gives three estimates: Low, medium and high ridership. The plan’s first projection, for 2025, estimates from 5.9 million to 10.8 million riders on the first sections of track completed, depending on whether the Central Valley line connects to northern or southern California.

The business plan calculates that the rail system would be profitable enough to pay for its own operations even under the lowest ridership projections, with operating revenue ranging from $1.4 billion to $2.1 billion in 2035. Operation and maintenance costs by 2035 are estimated at $1.4 billion to $2 billion a year.

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Thoughts from a lifelong Merced resident on public works projects

“Who wanted the Hoover Dam? Who wanted the interstate highways in the 1930s?” said Renee Davenport (pictured at left), who was born and raised in Merced. “Those projects were unpopular at first as well, but they were necessary. You and I are riding the highway now. We are getting water from the Hoover Dam. History speaks for itself. High-speed rail is necessary for California’s future. And we (the Valley) need these jobs.”

Davenport was addressing High-Speed Rail’s Board of Directors at a Merced City Hall meeting in December. A group of UC Merced students rode a makeshift train, orange-clad union members demonstrated and residents and officials also spoke, and board members gave the nod to a “hybrid alternative” route for the Merced to Fresno section of the project. The decision came in response to extensive public comments and feedback from Central Valley residents, agricultural groups, and businesses.

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UC Merced students take a stand on high-speed rail

A group of UC Merced students is getting a first-hand lesson in democracy as its members advocate for high-speed rail in the Central Valley.

A group of about a dozen students showed up decked out in “I Will Ride” T-shirts and a makeshift train at a recent High-Speed Rail board meeting, with Wainwright and others speaking alongside union members in support of the project. The students have also put up a Facebook page.

“I’m a junior at UC Merced and I would love to use high-speed rail to visit my family in Fresno,” said Matt Wainwright at the meeting. “It’s essential to invest in California’s future and this is an important step in infrastrucure. High-speed rail is not only great for the Central Valley but California as a whole.”

After the rally, the students stuck around for the board meeting, listening to more than 100 Central Valley residents and officials speak during the public comment period and sharing their opinions as well. The board passed a “hybrid alternative” route as the preferred alignment for the project’s Merced to Fresno section.

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Zipping through the Central Valley

Here’s an animation of what would be a typical scene in the Central Valley alongside the BNSF line near Wasco.

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