Local supporters of California's plan to run high-speed trains from the Bay Area to Los Angeles through Kings County and the rest of the Valley tout the benefits of economic development around a possible Hanford-area station.
But a proposed station east of Hanford is listed only as "optional," and wouldn't be built without matching local funds or in-kind support, according to California High-Speed Rail Authority officials.
Some county and city officials worried about budget shortfalls say they don't have any money to set aside for building a station, let alone planning for one. Others hold open the possibility of backing the location of a station here if the alignment as proposed goes through.
"The real question is whether high-speed rail is going to authorize a station there," said Greg Gatzka, county Community Development Agency director. "They have a priority list, and this station is at the bottom of the list. There's not even a guarantee that it will become a reality."
"The city does not have any identified funding sources for such a project," said Hanford City Manager Hilary Straus. Straus emphasized the city's opposition to the alignment running through Kings County.
"All indications from the [Kings County Board of Supervisors] is that the county doesn't have the funds to devote to that station," Gatzka said. "We have other priorities in the county, including clean water treatment facilities."
Prop 1A, passed by voters who approved building a high-speed rail network in California, said there could be no more than 24 stations on the route. Only stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles are mandated by the proposition. Others are left to be determined, but stations seem likely in Fresno to the north and Bakersfield to the south.
Some stations are considered "preferred," according to Rachel Wall, rail authority spokeswoman. In the third tier are the "optional" stations, which includes the one east of Hanford.
Wall was unable to provide a list of the preferred and optional stations Thursday, saying she would have to read through 200 pages to do so. She also did not return a phone call and email seeking comment about what the criteria are for determining whether a station is "preferred" or "optional."
Visalia has indicated support for a station, but an official gave no specifics Friday when asked if the city is willing to help fund it.
"The City of Visalia continues to support a regional high-speed rail station," said Assistant City Manager Michael Olmos in an email. "We hope to work in partnership with Hanford and other regional entities to make the station a reality."
According to Gatzka, one of the problems with the east-of-Hanford location is that it violates county policies directing urban development toward existing city boundaries. The proposed station would be located east of Highway 43, outside Hanford's city limits and outside its sphere of influence.
"This station is outside an urban area," said Terri King, executive director of the Kings County Association of Governments. "The others are downtown. Development was not to occur at that location."
King said that KCAG is considering applying for a $200,000 station planning grant offered by the rail authority, but is waiting on the outcome of Kings County's attempts to get the alignment moved closer to Highway 99. The grant would study traffic flow patterns and other transportation issues associated with increased traffic around a possible station.
Meanwhile, Straus said the city would want to be involved if the authority decided to build the station. He declined to say whether or under what circumstances that might include local funding.
"We remain very, very focused on the alignment issue at this point," he said.
But some city officials are leaving open the possibility of support for a station if the current alignment is finally approved.
"It's just not a cut-and-dry decision, because there's more facets to it than just ‘We want [the alignment] to go away,' said Hanford City Councilwoman Sue Sorensen. "Are we just going to let it go by us? Why would we want to pass up those benefits if we're not going to have a choice as to whether [the alignment] is going to be here?"
Sorensen said that if the current alignment sticks, she'd like the city to do a cost/benefit analysis of having a station in the Hanford area. Sorensen said she is glad the authority is considering the station as means of benefiting the region. The authority calls the optional site the "Kings/Tulare Regional Station," meaning it would serve Visalia and Tulare along with Hanford.
"To fight for it, I think, is worth it - to the extent we understand what we're fighting for," Sorensen said. "I don't know the cost parameters because I have not seen any design that has been formally presented with some costs attached to it."
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