Public Comment Essential to Ensure California High-Speed Rail is Built Right3 min read

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I have never known there to be as much attention – media or otherwise – paid to rail – high-speed rail (HSR) or otherwise – at any time in history as there is right now. What all this coverage (the good and bad) tells me is that it’s crucial that California get HSR right the first time. There is no doing this over.

Those in the know are fully aware that the 60-day public comment period regarding the California HSR Draft Merced-to-Fresno and Draft Fresno-to-Bakersfield Environmental Impact Reports/Statements is in full swing. The comment period provides those who publicly want to weigh in on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan the opportunity to do so. (Additional information on the public comment process is included at the end of this op-ed).

There is no hiding that there is controversy regarding what, if built, promises to be California’s biggest public works project ever. That there is disagreement is only natural and it’s expected. At the center of the controversy are issues on ridership and fares, rights-of-way acquisition and selection, financing as in where the money is going to come from to pay for the project, high-speed rail project management oversight in terms of who should be the regulating body in charge, and on whether or not high-speed rail in state should even be built. Now’s the time to have your voice heard.

In addition, this is an opportunity for the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board to really listen, keep an open mind and consider constructive commentary from informed individuals and groups, commentary having the potential to guide improvement. No doubt valuable public input will be delivered to the Authority. It’s imperative the Board listen attentively and closely. At the end of the day common ground needs to be found. All those who agree that HSR is needed I hope agree.

For those who do agree a fast-train system is needed connecting northern and southern California via the San Joaquin Valley but who may differ on how and where and what should be built, that is nonetheless a positive. Getting beyond this stage and working through the various differences is what is going to take work and where public input can be extremely helpful and valuable. First and foremost, we must remember this is a transportation endeavor for Californians and non-Californians alike and, that being the case, interested people in the public sector should have a say. I, myself, have expressed my opinion on HSR many times.

Building California high-speed rail right the first time is essential, no question about it. Our input is needed now more than ever. It’s imperative the Authority Board pay attention.

Related to this there is a Merced-to-Fresno HSR Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement public comment advisory in the Sept. 7th Fresno Bee. Here is some of what is contained in that advisory.

“The Draft EIR/EIS is available to the public for review and comment in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Public notice of its availability was issued during the week of August 8, 2011. The formal review and comment period began August 15, 2011, and originally was set to close on September 28, 2011. The comment period now has been extended to October 13, 2011. Comments must be received electronically, or postmarked, on or before October 13, 2011.

“The Draft EIR/EIS is available on the Authority’s website and at local library locations listed at the website. Please go to www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/draft-eir-m-f.aspx.”

There are three public meetings to be held in conjunction with the Merced-to-Fresno Draft EIR/EIS public comment process:

Merced, Sept. 14 from 3-8 p.m., Merced Community Senior Center, 755 W. 15th St., Merced, CA 95340

Madera, Sept. 15 from 3-8 p.m., Madera City Council Chambers, 205 W. 4th St., Madera, CA 93637

Fresno, Sept. 20 from 3-8 p.m., Fresno Convention Center, 848 M. St., Fresno, CA 93721

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Alan Kandel is a concerned California resident advocating for new, improved and expanded freight (and passenger) rail service. He is a retired railroad signalman previously employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in Fremont, California.

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