We've been following the growing contest among San Joaquin Valley cities for the main maintenance hub for the CHSRA system. Back in March CHSRA said Merced's Castle Airport was their first choice for the hub location, and Merced County officials have been strongly pursuing that. The contest has become more competitive, with Madera County proposing a site near Chowchilla, and Bakersfield proposing a site as well. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has been working to bring the hub to Fresno, an effort that may get a big boost from Fresno County:
Fresno County leaders may divert funds from Measure C, the county's half-cent transportation sales tax, to attract a high-speed rail maintenance yard that could employ 1,500 skilled workers....
But Fresno County is assuming it will need to line up a site to get serious consideration.
A task force of county officials and other local leaders has already chosen an undisclosed site along the system's route on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe corridor in rural southern Fresno County. The cost could be as much as $40 million....
But Anderson made clear that she thinks the most likely source is Measure C -- specifically a $37 million fund reserved for "new technologies such as personal rapid transit or similar system."
Although some in Fresno County raised cautions about redirecting Measure C money, I cannot imagine a better or more appropriate use for that $37 million than a maintenance hub. Personal rapid transit is a silly technology that shouldn't take priority over funding an HSR maintenance hub, should CHSRA decide Fresno is the best location for it.
Another possible funding pool is much less desirable for redirecting to the hub:
The council's staff also suggested that part of the measure's $106 million fund for moving the Fresno's BNSF tracks to the Union Pacific corridor could be diverted to the maintenance yard project. That drew fire from rail consolidation advocates.
"Make no mistake, folks: They're not talking about borrowing funds from rail consolidation," said Tom Bailey of Fresno Area Residents for Rail Consolidation. "They're talking about flat taking."
Fresno should move much more cautiously before diverting funds from consolidation to the hub. The Fresno rail consolidation project is a very good project that deserves to be supported, not defunded for a maintenance hub.
CHSRA has also evolved its own stance away from their March comments in favor of Castle Airport:
The authority's Central Valley regional director, Carrie Bowen, said the board is determined "to make this as competitive as possible."
Candidates will have to "identify what they can do" for the project, she said. In most cases, that will mean providing an estimated 154 acres in a shape appropriate for a train yard -- long and narrow.
A competitive process is desirable, but local governments shouldn't toss other worthy projects overboard to win the hub. Of course, PRT does not count as a "worthy project," so moving the $37 million in Measure C money is not only a wise policy move, it would seem to fit the letter and spirit of the voter-approved language, since HSR is after all a "new technology," at least as far as California is concerned.