Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, slammed the proposed elimination of Merced from the first stint of the state’s high-speed rail project on Monday during a legislative hearing in Sacramento.
The 2016 business draft released by the California High-Speed Rail Authority last month would change the southern segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley to a northern-oriented route from Shafter to San Jose. Under the new draft, the bullet train wouldn’t serve Merced until 2029.
“I think it’s a major betrayal of the Northern San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento region, which have been, and continue to be, huge supporters of the high-speed rail concept,” Gray said.
Gray said during the hearing that many Valley officials who support high-speed rail are upset that they weren’t consulted before the new plan was released, resulting in a loss of support for the rail project from Valley communities.
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“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is getting calls from my city council members saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been on board, we’ve been part of the planning process, we’ve been making plans here locally and investing local money,’ and they had no local notice whatsoever,” Gray said. “This puts us down the road of local officials walking away with their support for this project. I don’t think that’s good for California. That’s not what I want for this project, but we’re going to have to see some changes.”
Gray said no one will commute from Shafter to San Jose, what the new plan proposes, and that the plan doesn’t address congestion on Highway 99 and the Altamont.
Merced City Council members, the majority of which have supported the project, expressed their disappointment in the new plan at last week’s council meeting.
“I feel like we’ve been punched in the face by HSR,” Councilman Tony Dossetti said.
Jeff Morales, the rail agency’s CEO, expressed regret for failing to advise Merced leaders ahead of time. But he attributed Merced’s circumstances to the constraints the authority is facing in lining up its construction contracts – including a gap in environmental clearances in the Chowchilla area that prevented the agency from contracting for construction between Madera and Merced.
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.