Visalia calls for Highway 99 high-speed rail route

Photo by California High Speed Rail Authority.Photo by California High Speed Rail Authority.Officials with the city of Visalia would like the state to reconsider the preferred high-speed rail route connecting Fresno to Bakersfield that — as of now — plows through Kings County.

Instead of running into a buzz saw of opposition in Kings County — where officials today hosted a press conference highlighting their frustrations with the project — a Visalia city council task force is asking the California High Speed Rail Authority's new chairperson to take a second look at a Highway 99 alignment.

A change in the state CHSRA leadership and a reworking of the project’s business plan may be an opportunity to relocate the path of the proposed bullet train closer to east side population centers and away from Kings County farms, city officials wrote in a letter to Dan Richard, the new chair of the rail authority.

Visalia council members Bob Link and Warren Gubler penned a Jan. 30 letter that could garner support from Kings County supervisors as well as  supervisors from Tulare County who have each disapproved of the project.

“With this letter we hope [Tulare and Kings counties] will take a new bite of the apple,” Gubler said. "We know there are serious questions about the project, but if it is built, we should all support a Highway 99 route.”

The city of Visalia tabled a proposal in December to apply for state grant funds to build a bullet-train station in Kings County after howls of complaints from Kings County leaders.

The Visalia letter states: "We believe that relocating the high speed train alignment near the corridor would achieve several advantages,” including the fact that Highway 99 is “already an established major transportation network thorough the Central Valley” rather than raising the ire of agriculturalists on a new cross-farmland route.

The letter suggests the rail authority "re-initiate" efforts with the Union Pacific railroad to share its rail corridor. Union Pacific has voiced concerns the project could impact its freight operations. The letter also states that the city of Visalia owns land near the Highway 99/Union Pacific corridor, souther of Highway 198, that could be used for a portion of the rail alignment or as a site for a South Valley station.

Kings County officials have adamantly voiced their opposition to the project, hosting a press conference today to highlight "great disappointment" that its "emphatic plea for necessary and timely intervention has fallen on deaf ears and received no response," according to a letter dated Jan. 31 from the Kings County Board of Supervisors to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The letter complains that the rail authority "has not and continues to refuse to coordinate and resolve conflicts with kings County's award-winning planning policies and regulations designed to protect farmland, comply with AB 32 and respond to time-sensitive public safety demands..."

The Business Journal staff contributed to this report.