California High-Speed Rail and Feds Get on Board for Route Sustainability

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority and federal authorities today got on board to sign a clean pact. The memorandum of agreement aims for complete sustainability planning and design throughout the proposed 800 miles of track that will be sensitive to housing, stations, neighborhoods, including ecological lands and agricultural farmland.

"It's an important step toward a smart way of travel, with this partnership with the federal government," said authority CEO Roelof Van Ark, who added that it expands on the rail system's green initiatives that take advantage of clean renewable electrical power systems.

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He was joined by Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani (D - Livingston), representatives from the US Department of Transportation, US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with members of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy and the Strategic Growth Council at High Speed Rail Authority headquarters in Sacramento.

"Three of the top congested areas in the U.S. are in California," explained Assemblywoman Galgiani, "and the 12th largest source of greenhouse gases on the planet... Today's signing brings a frame work for working together, protecting the health and resources of California as well."

"This will be critical to the success of this project and economy of California," said Karen Rae, Deputy Administrator Federal Railroad Administration, of the partnerships with Washington that will "go live" in California. "The collaboration is insured."

"Working with programs within the agencies, such as HUD, is a significant priority," Rae declared. "In the end, it is about valuing our neighborhoods, rural, urban and suburban, and be an example for other high speed rail across the country."

Since early 2010, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has received up to $3.6 billion in federal funds, joining $9.9 billion bond passed by Californians in 2008. Building is expected to begin in fall 2012, and there has been optimistic talk of linking to the privately funded DesertXpress, which is considering extending the line past Victorville.

When asked about Republicans in the House of Representatives growing resistance to President Obama's goal of high speed rail reaching across the U.S., Van Ark answered as if it was just another bump in a long road. "High speed rail is about getting jobs in the U.S., with a great understanding we have to do something about environment," he said, steering back to sustainability. "I guess every approach needs to be taken seriously. We are quite on our way to 2012."

By being first built on open Central Valley land, high speed rail becomes 21st Century California-or-Bust project that not only has the attention of the GOP, but local observers. Towns are hoping for a station, routes are still being negotiated, all while a highly visible spokesperson of high speed rail, Curt Pringle, resigned from the board Monday.

"We have High Speed Rail getting closer with partners, that will be built next year, designed on principles of sustainability and smart growth." Van Ark said, closing the press conference to the applause of supporters.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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