Rafael has long called for Castle Airport in Atwater, just outside Merced, to become a relief airport for the Bay Area by using HSR to bring passengers to and from the airport. While not exactly endorsing that specific plan, Merced County has approved a study of putting an HSR maintenance facility at Castle:
Merced County leaders junked their contract with the private investment firm that had been pegged to transform Castle Commerce Center into a thriving economic hub.
In another move aimed to stimulate the local economy, supervisors authorized money to be spent to show that the Castle center could work as a maintenance hub for the statewide high-speed rail project....
Plans to build a 700-mile passenger rail system that would connect Los Angeles to the Bay Area were first proposed more than a decade ago. With the November approval of a $10 billion bond measure to pay for the first phase of the project, it now appears it may actually be built.
On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors voted to revive the county's dormant High Speed Rail Citizens' Committee and spend $40,000 to prepare a feasibility study on building a train maintenance hub at Castle.
County officials hope both moves will help convince the state's high-speed rail board that Castle is the right choice for the hub. Several nearby counties are also vying for the designation.
On its face this seems like a very smart move for Merced County. Turning an old airport facility into an exurban office and service hub is no longer a viable economic proposition. The Merced region will soon have a glut of office and light manufacturing space, if it doesn't already. An HSR maintenance facility, however, would provide long-term green jobs for Merced County, the kind of economic base that the San Joaquin Valley desperately needs.
I'll let the more technically minded among us debate the practicalities of putting an HSR maintenance facility at Castle. From a political and economic perspective it seems like a sound concept, and could leave open the possibility of developing Castle Airport in the way Rafael has long advocated.
So I like this move by Merced County. The San Joaquin Valley governments, particularly Fresno, have been especially proactive in looking at how to make HSR work well for their economy, their landscape, and their residents. It's exactly the kind of sensible planning work that HSR ought to be encouraging around the state.