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California’s high-speed rail meets opposition over eminent domain

Isabel Angell May 28, 2013
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In 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond for a high-speed rail system that would get travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours. The rail will have to travel through California’s agricultural hub, the Central Valley, but residents there trying to stop the project.

Last year, two big farming organizations sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority to stop construction. The farmers don’t mind the idea of a rail line, but there’s already an eyesore that slices down the valley: Interstate-5. And the farmers think the rail should follow the freeway.

“There would be far less impact on agricultural lands than the current alignment which literally cuts right across many, many working farms,” says Barry Epstein, who represented the farmers.

That lawsuit was settled last month with no change to the route. Now, the Rail Authority is using eminent domain to buy 350 properties to prepare for construction.

Andy Likuski is on the board of Californians for High-Speed Rail. While it’s bad for the people losing their property, he says the investment is necessary.

“The state’s population is going to grow to over 50 million people and we have to make investments in our transportation infrastructure,” Likuski says.

The farmers don’t see it like that, and the lawsuits aren’t going away. They’re still hoping to get the Rail Authority back to the drawing board, to consider a different route down California — one that goes down Interstate-5 and doesn’t disrupt more farms.

Getting the land in the Central Valley was supposed to be the easy part. The real trouble will come as the rail moves into the densely populated cities around LA and San Francisco.

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