Merced schools question impact of high-speed rail plan

Property tax revenue might be lower after line is built.

02/22/2012 11:38 PM

02/23/2012 6:17 AM

Merced County Board of Education members got a glimpse into California's developing high-speed rail network Tuesday afternoon, but little in the way of specifics about the impact the system might have on school revenues.

Jeff Abercrombie, Fresno-based area program manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority in the Central Valley, said the final environmental document for the Merced-Fresno leg is expected to be complete in April and could detail the system's impact on tax rolls. The environmental report has a section on socioeconomic effects.

Tentative alignment plans call for high-speed rail to follow BNSF Railway tracks from Fresno to Madera and Union Pacific Railroad lines from Chowchilla to Merced, Abercrombie said. The project is certain to remove some private properties from tax rolls and that would affect education, he added.

Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said it's useful for the board to hear about high-speed rail plans for this area. Gomes said Chowchilla Union High School District Superintendent Ron Seals will speak about high-speed rail at the trustees' March session.

Board members made no public comments about the high-speed rail plans.

Schools generally receive about 80 percent of their revenue from the state and the rest from sources such as property tax revenues, according to Gomes.

Three people spoke in favor of the system envisioned to ultimately link Southern California, San Francisco and Sacramento areas.

Abercrombie said trains will travel at 220 mph. Grade crossings along the system are estimated to be a mile or two apart and local school bus routes shouldn't be affected. He said on a project the size of the high-speed rail system, the right-of-way is seldom purchased all at once.

Mark Bowden of Modesto, training director for the Central Valley Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, said the high-speed rail system will be a valuable asset to the state of California once it's done and will bring many jobs to the local area.

Bowden encouraged trustees to support high-speed rail. He said local property values will go up and many other building projects will occur because of the rail system.

Realtor Cathy Paskin said there are many parallels between UC Merced and high-speed rail. Both faced naysayers in the early stages, but the university has shown its worth.

"Focus on the positives and let the negatives work themselves out," Paskin said. "Keep an open mind. We haven't scratched the surface on the long-term benefits of UC Merced."

Robin Adam, district director for Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, said there's a direct correlation between high-speed rail and its benefits to education.

"It's not about tomorrow -- it's about the future," Adam said. "UC Merced has been supportive of high-speed rail. Each high-speed train would take 400 to 800 cars off the road. We see a lot of benefits from this new transportation option."

Galgiani is chairwoman of the Assembly select committee on high-speed rail.

Abercrombie said the High-Speed Rail Authority's business plan has projected conservative patronage numbers and shows the system will meet its operation-maintenance costs -- and then some.

With a Merced station on the system, property values may go up, Abercrombie said.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at

(209) 385-2407 or

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