City, county officials jubilant over high-speed rail grant

Merced city and county officials reacted gleeflully to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration announcement of a $715 million grant that will be used to construct high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley.

“This funding is great news for the entire Merced region. Merced County, and the cities of Atwater and Merced , and numerous other entities that sit on the Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee have been strongly advocating that the Merced to Fresno section be built first and this funding can make that a reality. We are confident that the Merced to Fresno section will be the first phase constructed of the statewide California High-Speed Rail system given that we meet the independent utility requirements and have regional support for high-speed rail,” said Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo. “We thank the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration for this significant investment in the Central Valley.”

The Merced to Fresno segment represents the backbone of California’s high-speed rail system, providing crucial links to Sacramento, the Bay Area, and Southern California, the city said in a news release The Merced to Fresno segment offers a line that is ready to go and will provide a functioning segment, connecting the Merced to Fresno stations and an operating line that has independent utility, the release cotninued. The voters of California recognized the importance of building the link in Merced when they adopted Proposition 1A, which required that the high-speed train be built to Merced in Phase I, according to the city.

Approval of the Merced to Fresno section also positions the Castle Commerce Center in Merced County as the premier site for development by the California High-Speed Rail Authority as a Heavy Maintenance Facility (HMF), where trains would be assembled and maintained, the news release said. This facility would result in an additional 1,500 direct jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs, and millions of dollars in related economic activity. Because of its central location, proximity to major rail and existing rights-of-way, and available space, Castle provides many additional unique economic advantages for the project, like no other site under consideration by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, according to the city's news release.

“Our region has aggressively competed for high-speed rail and the heavy maintenance facility and we are ready to put our community to work,” said Mayor Bill Spriggs. “We have continually pursued the high-priority corridor designation and we have mobilized the support of the northern Central Valley in advocating that the Merced to Fresno section be built first.”

“We congratulate the California High-Speed Rail Authority for this great success,” said Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee Chairman Dr. Lee Boese, Jr. “We are thankful to Congressman Dennis Cardoza and Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani for working to bring resources to make high-speed rail a reality in Merced and provide badly needed jobs to our residents.”

The overall system is expected to generate more than 160,000 full time jobs over the course of construction, according to the city's news release. The recent funding supplements additional funding California has received for high-speed rail development. The state was awarded $2.34 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as the $9 billion in funding that the California voters approved in state bonds in 2008.

California's planned 220 mph high-speed train system will cost less than half as much as building more freeway lanes and airport runways and will increase mobility while cutting air pollution and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, according to the news release.

For more information, please contact Mark Hendrickson, county of Merced, (209) 628-6147 or Angelo Lamas, county of Merced, (209) 385-7543 or Mike Conway, city of Merced, (209) 385-6834.