High-speed rail is coming to the Central Valley. Residents see a new life in the fast lane

FRESNO, Calif. —  The piling rig was in position, ready to drive a concrete pillar 40 feet into the ground. Just beyond the rig on this winter afternoon, trucks and cars continued streaming down State Road 198 in Hanford, separated from the construction site by white dividers.

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Then, the pile-driving began. Foot by foot, the rig’s hammer slammed the pillar into the ground with the rhythmic beat of a metronome. With every blow, the ground shook and exhaust spewed. The beam would be one more in a network of pillars pounded deep into the earth to create the foundation for a high-speed rail line that in a matter of years will glide along tracks above the state highway, launching a new era in California’s Central Valley.

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From earth-moving equipment to heavy trucks ferrying massive beams and bulldozers clearing piles of debris, construction related to California’s high-speed rail project is evident across the San Joaquin Valley. Farther north, crews worked atop a viaduct that will carry the high-speed line above existing freight tracks that cut across the state north to south. And in Fresno’s Chinatown, restaurant and retail owners eagerly served a steady influx of construction workers, engineers and electricians, part of a broader transformation of the city’s downtown and economic prospects.

California’s high-speed rail may still be a matter of carping debate in some political circles, but it’s fast becoming a reality for residents of the Central Valley. This heavily farmed region — historically separated from Los Angeles, San Francisco and the California coast by both conservative politics and physical distance — is first in line to benefit from an infrastructure project being built with tens of billions of dollars in state and federal funding.

The 171-mile stretch of rail running between Merced and Bakersfield could be operational as early as 2030, with testing of the bullet trains slated to begin in 2028, according to the High-Speed Rail Authority. The project has created more than 12,000 construction jobs, with 70% of those workers coming from the Central Valley. Authority officials cited 25 active construction sites, with the Kings/Tulare station outside Hanford being the largest. The authority is closing in on finishing 22 miles of rail north of Shafter, set to be the first segment of the rail line completed.

In December, the Biden administration awarded the authority a $3.1-billion grant, the authority’s biggest award to date. The funds will go toward purchase of six electric trains for testing and use, design and construction of the Fresno station and designs for the Merced and Bakersfield extensions.

Residents and local officials acknowledge there has long been dissent over the project. Some of the region’s big farm interests have mounted fierce opposition, rallying conservative lawmakers to their cause. But the tenor of the conversation has changed as more jobs are created and structures go up.

When Interstate 5 was conceived in the mid-20th century as a major transportation corridor connecting California from north to south, the Central Valley’s interests were not part of the equation. The route skirts the valley’s rural western edge, and its major population centers — Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield — were left out. In contrast, the high-speed rail line will cut through the heart of the valley, and Fresno and Bakersfield are key transportation hubs along the route.

The first operating segment of the high-speed line will run from Bakersfield in the south to Merced in the north. The vision is to ultimately extend service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But even before those planned expansions, the rail line will intersect with existing passenger rail in Merced and a satellite bus network in Bakersfield to create more seamless nonauto travel options.

Local officials believe that connectivity will open all sorts of horizons: making it easier for people to live inland, where housing is relatively affordable, and still work on the coast. Access to jobs — particularly nonfarm jobs — and top-notch colleges will expand. And a region notably lacking in hospitals and healthcare professionals will have more options.

“To say I’m excited is an understatement,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, a Republican. “High-speed rail is a game-changer for Fresno and the Central Valley in many ways. No. 1, it will reconnect Fresno and the entire valley with the rest of the state and connect us with the California economy.”

In Fresno’s Chinatown, there is a rich history of diverse communities driven together by redlining policies.

Dating to the 1860s, Chinese migrants working on the freight railways were forced west of the tracks. Pretty much anyone who was not white migrated to what became Chinatown, and a thriving community evolved as people from Africa, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan settled in the area. All that began to unravel in the 1960s when urban renewal projects brought freeway construction that severed Chinatown from the rest of the city and forced mass displacement of residents. Businesses shuttered, buildings were abandoned, and those who remained lived amid blight.

Central Fish Co., opened in 1950, is one of the longest-standing businesses that remain. Owner Morgan Doizaki, who took over the shop from his parents, is a big proponent of the rail project. He, along with other business and property owners, formed the nonprofit Chinatown Fresno Foundation to support the rail line and advocate for the neighborhood’s inclusion in Fresno’s transformation. The Fresno station will be built on the site of the city’s historic depot center in downtown, and related renovations involving roads and walkways will connect commuters to Chinatown.

The massive reconstruction is not without challenges. Carniceria y Taqueria La Nueva Reyna, which has served traditional Mexican dishes on Tulare Street for more than a decade, has put up large, colorful banners to let people know they remain open. To get inside, patrons must navigate bright orange netting, maneuvering around missing sidewalks and large machinery. While they have lost some old customers, owner Reyna Cruz said, they’ve also gotten new business from construction workers stopping by for lunch and beverages on their breaks. “There are good times and bad times,” she said as workers streamed in to buy sodas on a Monday afternoon.

Central Fish Co. customers have to navigate a maze of road closures that sometimes box in the store, Doizaki said. Still, he is hopeful. In 2019, he purchased a building in Chinatown that he envisions turning into an apartment and retail complex.

“When the time is right, we’ll be in a position to capitalize on the state’s largest project ever coming into our backyard,” he said. “It’s like a gift.”

Orlando Viloria, who works for Doizaki, is also excited by the rail line’s promise. He envisions day trips to Los Angeles to see his family and them zipping up to see him. “That’s always been my dream,” he said. “I just can’t wait.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Comments

  1. Pravda California?
    Babylon Bee?

  2. Scarlet Pimpernel says

    So each time someone takes a $20.00 train ticket ride; the taxpayers will subsidize them by $2,000.00or $5,000.00 or ? This why the Nation is going bankrupt. Now we know why the left said, “Math is racist.” They want the kids dumb and dumber.

  3. ABSURD!

    TIME TO MOVE TO A RED STATE.

  4. It’s totally beyond…. stupid is as stupid does – that’s you….VOTERS!!!

  5. All the local hype in these communities ignores the stark reality that building to San Francisco or Los Angeles will be a nightmare of cost and environmental hurdles as heavily urbanized, and expensive areas resist new railroad tracks. Where will Gav-Man or Senile Joe find the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to make the Bakersfield to Merced line viable for the population centers on the coast? The Dems promoting this nonsense must have flunked their basic economics classes because they haven’t a clue what they are doing. Same applies for the Rep mayor of Fresno. But then the GOP has so many weak ‘leaders’ that the party is a ghost when it comes to opposing silly ways to spend money.

  6. The author, and many of the supporters of the project in Fresno and surrounding areas, are conflating the benefits of public spending which creates jobs and stimulates welcome economic activity, with the inherent value or lack of value of whatever that public spending is for.

    In the case of high speed rail, of course these well paying construction jobs help the local economy as the workers spend the money they earn. But there is no market for high speed rail. It is a terrible project in terms of cost/benefit.

    California’s HSR will cost over $100 billion to build, then will operate at a loss in perpetuity. Ridership will never even come close to supporting operating costs, much less paying off the construction debt, and the amount of ridership will not even put a small dent in the transportation miles logged by Californians even just in the Central Valley, much less the entire state. This is all well documented.

    If the political leaders who supported this project had instead taken a path of greater political resistance – and this goes for the labor leaders as well – they would have stood up to the climate kooks and would have demanded useful public spending.

    For example, they could have put this money into finally building the Temperance Flat Dam, widening and upgrading I-5 and Highway 99, fixing the Friant-Kern Canal, and had tens of billions to spare for other worthy projects all over the state. That would have created just as many jobs and economic stimulus, but would have resulted in projects that will add value to the economy forever, instead of being a permanent drain.

  7. Dustin Tourkee says

    This is The Big Dig West Plus. Sure, it’s a grift and a giveaway to the contruction donor class, but it also serves as a transportation and jobs hub for the new replacement population that’s arriving by the millions every year courtesy of the Democrats. Soon, they won’t have to live in crowded Blue cities in the Bay Area. They can take a subsidized train ride to their subsidized jobs from their new subsidized Central Valley High Density 15 Minute cities (more developer donor grift) that your children (not theirs) will be paying for, forever.

  8. Come to CA, the worst-run state in the union.

  9. And so continues the incremental Marxist wet dream. Getting us all out of OUR cars one way or another and using our money to do it. But they won’t stop driving, flying, boating. Living high. These Godless globalists, gods in their own minds, are deluded by satan into thinking our existence is a problem for them. We breathe THEIR air, use THEIR resources, THEIR money, eat THEIR food, use THEIR water, clog THEIR roads, buy THEIR goods. The goal is to hinder us, then get rid of us (Agenda 21, 2030, 2050). Whatever the cost. When they face God in the Judgment, THEN THEY will see. Until then, IF WE LET THEM, they will continue to steal from us our lives, our votes, and any ability to legally, or otherwise, defend ourselves.

  10. Empty choo choo trains in the Valley. Very little population in the valley. We will just keep on driving.
    Geologic blockades in the grapevine mountains. What a toy.

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