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California high-speed rail route approved

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board has voted to begin construction of the system that will eventually connect Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted last Thursday to begin construction of the system that will eventually connect Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 65-mile segment, located in the heart of the state’s Central Valley, lays the foundation for expanding the track north and south. It was chosen because it makes best use of available funding and can be used whether or not the rest of the 800-mile system is built -- both federal requirements.

"We're in the business of connecting major metropolitan centers across our state," authority vice chair Tom Umberg said in a statement. "We won’t have a true high-speed rail system until we tie every part of this state together."

The decision has been met with some resistance, since the approved segment is virtually unusable by consumers without the rest of the system in place. (It can, however, be connected to an existing Amtrak freight line, the Associated Press reports.)

The new line would start north of Fresno near Madera and include the construction of two new stations: one in downtown Fresno, and the other east of Hanford. It will then continue to Corcoran, north of Bakersfield.

The initial segment will use about $4.15 billion of the available $4.3 billion.

The funds will be used:

  • To build two new stations.
  • Acquire rights of way.
  • Construct viaducts.
  • Prepare the site.
  • Grade the land.
  • Restore vegetation.
  • Build rail bridges.
  • Realign roadways.
  • Relocate existing railways and utilities.

Another key point for the location: jobs. The project is a massive job creation engine, and the Central Valley -- with unemployment upwards of 40 percent -- is among the places hardest hit after the global economic downturn.

No construction can begin until the Authority completes its environmental reviews of the project, set for Sept. 2011. Construction is expected to begin in 2012 and finish in 2017.

Here's a look at the project:

Tell me: given the future benefits and present risks, would you vote yes on this project?

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure