Construction on California's high-speed rail project could begin as early as next year after the federal government approved the Merced-to- Fresno route. The decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to sign off on the 60-mile route, as well as the environmental review, is welcome news for all supporters of rail in the San Joaquin Valley.
The sooner construction begins on the project, the sooner the San Joaquin Valley will enjoy the benefits -- including job creation and other economic activity.
All of California will one day be thankful when the high-speed rail system finally connects our huge state.
There are still many significant hurdles in the way of the project. Several lawsuits have been threatened and opponents have looked for every opportunity to slow the project.
The federal approval was needed because the Obama administration has allocated about $3.3 billion for the first phase of the project in the Valley. High- speed rail will eventually connect San Francisco and Los Angeles through the San Joaquin Valley.
This region is the right place to start the project. Nearly everyone who has studied high-speed rail says it makes sense to build the first segment in a flat, unobstructed place where trains can reach the highest speeds and the system can be tested and refined.
It's a massive project and we must move cautiously, but steadily to complete it.
In the end, it will be a transportation system that will lead California through the 21st-century transportation needs.
We need transportation alternatives. California can't build enough freeways to handle the state's growing population. High-speed rail is an investment in our future that will be paid for over time -- just like any major infrastructure project.
Local leaders applauded the federal government's recent action on the project.
"The start of the Fresno- to-Merced segment will provide a much- needed economic boost for our area through the high- paying construction jobs that will be created," said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea said high-speed rail will provide an "incredible new form of transportation," in addition to bringing much-needed jobs to the region's residents.
We agree with their assessment of the latest step that high-speed rail has taken.