SACRAMENTO, California — The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced Friday that it has settled one of seven environmental lawsuits challenging the route of the $68 billion bullet train through the Central Valley.
The settlement with the city of Bakersfield calls for officials to consider alternative routes through the Kern County city, and a new location for a Bakersfield train station if a new route is chosen. Authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley said the authority will hold community meetings to gather comments.
"Our goal is to maximize the benefits of high-speed rail in Bakersfield and minimize impacts to the community," authority chief executive officer Jeff Morales said in a statement.
The authority's board previously agreed not to build into Bakersfield while negotiations were underway.
The route previously preferred by the authority ran from the city limit through downtown Bakersfield and would affect more than 500 existing structures, Bakersfield city attorney Virginia Gennaro said.
City officials' proposed alternative would run next to an existing freight railroad line through a mainly industrial area and affect about 100 properties. It is straighter, faster, more level and would have fewer grade crossings, so it would be less expensive, Gennaro said.
"There are some good things that could come of this not only for the authority but for the community of Bakersfield," she said.
Settlement talks have been held with other opponents who are using the state's environmental law to challenge the bullet train plans, without result, Alley said.
The lawsuits are over the 114-mile segment that will run from Fresno to north of Bakersfield, one mile north of the Kern-Tulare County line. The rail authority approved the environmental impact report for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section in May.
The Bakersfield negotiations predate last week's decision by a federal agency that it has the authority to pre-empt state environmental law, Alley said. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that lawsuits challenging the high-speed rail line under the California Environmental Quality Act conflict with its authority over railroads.
The ruling was sought by the state rail authority for fear that the seven lawsuits could delay construction.
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