Chowchilla gets a look at ideas for high-speed rail junction

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 27, 2013 

— Area residents got an up-close look Wednesday at the High-Speed Rail Authority's plan for the "Chowchilla Wye."

Authority officials held a public meeting to discuss several alternative routes for the Y-shaped junction, all of which would fork off south of the city heading west to San Jose and north to Merced.

The meeting was held in the Little Theater at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds at 1000 S. Third St. More than 100 people showed up at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmead for a similar meeting March 20.

Since the fall, rail officials have narrowed the potential alignments to four from 14 using several criteria, said Diana Gomez, the rail authority's regional director for the valley.

"Aquatic resources was one of the concerns," she said. "Farmland was another concern. Schools, businesses were also primary factors."

From 118 to 121 acres of wetlands and other aquatic resources would be affected within the wye's 12-square-mile area, according to rail authority data. Agricultural land would take a hit of 2,514 to 3,231 acres.

Up to 16 businesses and 163 residences would be relocated, according to rail authority data.

One person who could be affected is Doug Marsh, a retired cattle rancher living outside Chowchilla. He said he'd be amenable to losing his land if he were properly compensated.

"They said they're going to send an appraiser out there to appraise the land." He said. "Well, me and that appraiser may get into it. We may have a damn knock down, drag out down there."

Under the remaining alignment options, the 220-mph train could wrap around Chowchilla to the west near Road 13 or east near Road 18. Heading away from Chowchilla toward San Jose, the train could run along Avenue 21 or Highway 152.

Rail officials agreed not to build the fast train along Highway 99 through the center of town when the city settled an environmental lawsuit earlier this year.

Elias Valencia, an almond farmer between Madera and Chowchilla, said he supports the train but is concerned about how it will affect him.

"I think it will be good for the people. But I want to know how much this will affect my property. With the bullet train, there's going to be a lot of noise."

Le Grand cattle rancher Adela Morrison had land along one of the earlier alignments that got scrapped. But she said she's still frustrated by the project.

"They say they're going to have so many jobs," she said. "It's not going to be the people in the community. It's going to be outside people."

Work on the Fresno-to-Madera section is set to start later this year. The next sections scheduled to be built are Fresno to Bakersfield and then Madera to Merced, with a tentative completion date in 2018.

"A lot of it's going to be constructed at the same time," said Gomez. "So it's not like you've got to finish one (section) before you start another."

Matt Harry, who lives south of Chowchilla, said he's for high-speed rail in general but not this project.

"I'm not against high-speed rail in principle," he said. "But this is not the right project. It's galactically expensive."

The authority has about $6 billion in federal and state bond money to build the first section of the $68 billion project, according to rail officials.

Madera County Supervisor David Rogers represents District 2, which encompasses Chowchilla. He said he's always been against the project.

However, he's pleased with the way staff recently has listened to public input.

"I think they're trying harder," he said. "I wish they would have tried like this in the beginning, and we would have had some good dialogue on routes that made sense. What's got them in trouble is diagonally dissecting farmland."

The draft environmental impact report for the Chowchilla Wye could be released as early as this summer, with a final choice of the route coming next spring, according to rail officials.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service