Is High-Speed Rail Right For CA? Federal Gov't Says Yes

The effort to bring high-speed rail to the Valley is getting some big support from the federal government.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Fresno Wednesday morning, promoting the Obama Administration's vision for the bullet train.

He met with ag leaders, hoping to convince them high-speed rail is essential to keeping California's economy moving.

"This is about jobs. High-speed rail in America is about creating thousands of jobs. High-speed rail in California is about helping to get the California economy moving again, to get unemployment down, to put friends and neighbors to work. And implementing high-speed rail in California will do that," LaHood said.

Many people who live in the area of the proposed rail line say they are concerned the train will destroy their land.

The transportation secretary says he is aware of their concerns. "We will not turn a blind eye to any person who will listen to us, and will work with us to mitigate the loss of whatever they're losing. Whether it's agricultural land, or a building or whatever. We're gonna try and find ways to mitigate this and fix it," LaHood said.

In his State of the Union address two weeks ago, President Obama called for investments in transportation as part of his plan to rebuild America.

Local support for the project is divided.

Many farmers and Republican lawmakers oppose bringing high-speed rail to the Valley, while local Democrats support it.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin is a supporter, saying the project will bring much needed jobs in a time where the Valley has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

News release issued by the Department of Transportation:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Promotes Obama Administration Vision for High-Speed Rail in Meeting with Fresno Mayor Swearengin and Area Business LeadersFRESNO, Calif. - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today promoted the Obama Administration's vision for high-speed rail in a meeting with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Sacramento area business leaders.{} Secretary LaHood stressed high-speed rail's potential to create new construction and manufacturing jobs while providing California with a transportation network that can support the world's ninth largest economy.

"High-speed rail is a game changer for U.S. transportation and is critical for a California economy built to last," said Secretary LaHood.{} "President Obama has called on us to rebuild America by putting people back to work making sure our country has the safest, fastest, most efficient ways to move people and products.{} Building a high-speed rail network, beginning here in California's Central Valley with American workers and American companies, is a great place to start."

Construction of California's 220 miles-per-hour high-speed rail system will begin in Fresno later this year and will, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, create tens of thousands of jobs over the next five years in a region hit especially hard by the recession. The state's high-speed rail project would connect Fresno and other communities in the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin, two of the country's largest metropolitan areas, with travel times under two hours.{}

Through a "Buy America" approach to construction, the Obama Administration is ensuring that high-speed rail projects are built with American-made products.{} In addition, 30 rail companies from around the world have pledged that if selected for high-speed rail contracts, they will hire American workers and expand their bases of operations in the United States.{}

The Central Valley is the fastest growing part of California, and one of the fastest growing regions in the country.{} By 2050, the region will double in size to more than 13 million people, making it more populated than Illinois, Pennsylvania or Ohio. Today, the Central Valley supports the fifth busiest intercity passenger corridor in the nation. {}

California is already home to six of the 10 most congested metropolitan areas and the busiest short-haul air market in the nation. The stress on the state's infrastructure will become even more pronounced during the next 40 years, as the state's population is estimated to grow by more than 20 million people. Without constructing the high-speed rail system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates the state would need to invest $171 billion to acquire the equivalent level of capacity2,300 miles of new highways, 115 new airport gates, and four new airport runways.

"Our highways and airports simply can't handle the growth," said Secretary LaHood.{} "At this make or break moment, America needs a transportation jobs bill that includes resources to continue building a national high-speed rail network."

California's intercity passenger rail system is one of several regional rail networks planned across the United States.{} To date, the U.S. Department of Transportation has invested $10.1 billion to put American communities on track toward new and expanded rail service with improved reliability, speed, and frequency of existing service.