City Council backs Merced County site for high-speed rail maintenance hub

The Merced City Council put its stamp of approval -- in the form of a unanimous resolution -- Monday night on a proposal to site the high-speed rail's heavy maintenance hub, and its jobs, in Merced County.

"We've got a site that we think is a good site and now we have to make sure that site gets picked out by the authority," said Lee Boese, who co-chairs the Greater Merced High Speed Rail Committee, which is heading up Merced County's effort to have the maintenance yard placed here.

The committee, which consists of local governments and private citizens, is due to finalize the county's statement of interest by Jan. 15. (Two Merced City Council members and the assistant city manager sit on the committee.)

While the county is a likely place for the maintenance hub, said Mayor Bill Spriggs, there is still a lot of tough competition for the hub.

Boese agrees. He said he's heard that Chowchilla, Madera and Fresno are all shooting for the hub.

But Spriggs and Boese both said they think Merced has a few advantages when it comes to getting the yard.

"I think having already done this before with the UC, we have proved that we can work together," said Spriggs.

And that is exactly why the committee is using the same model that was used to get the UC to come to Merced, said Boese.

Cooperation aside, preparing the proposal and choosing several possible sites that fit the High Speed Rail Authority's requirements was not easy, said Boese.

The authority requires a site that is 150 acres and is situated so that a train can easily access it, said Boese. It also has to be intermodal. In other words, said Boese, it has to be near an airport and a freeway. Also, it can't be in the middle of town where construction noise will bother people.

While there is no one site chosen yet, past planning documents have put forward Castle Commerce Center as a location for the hub, noted a Merced staff report on the facility.

While the city of Merced made its choice on the matter, said Boese, Atwater and the county have yet to vote on their resolutions for the rail hub.

If the heavy maintenance yard does come to Merced County it could bring 1,500 jobs, according to the authority.

The high-speed rail project, currently going through environmental review, was approved by California voters in November 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A. The 800-mile system, which will travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles at roughly 220 mph, is estimated to cost $45 billion. Construction is due to begin in 2012.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.