BARSTOW • The Barstow City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday to throw the city's support behind one of two competing high-speed rail proposals and to oppose the other.
The Council authorized a letter of support for the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev Project, a federally funded proposal that would run a high-speed train using magnetic levitation technology from Anaheim to Las Vegas, with stops in Ontario, Victorville, Barstow and Primm, as well as a central maintenance yard in Barstow.
The project has been in the works for more than 20 years but has stalled over funding and other issues. The proponents tout it as a commuter route and means of relieving airport congestion in Los Angeles by carrying travelers to the Ontario International Airport, as well as a route from Southern California to Las Vegas.
At Tuesday's meeting, City Manager Richard Rowe and Council members talked about the jobs that would be created in Barstow by the siting of the maintenance yard. Councilman Tim Silva also noted that the train would serve local commuters as well as tourists headed to Las Vegas.
Neil Cummings, president of American Magline Group, a private partner of the California/Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, planned to present Barstow's letter along with letters of support from the mayors of Anaheim and Ontario to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday, as part of a bid for a share of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds designated for high-speed rail projects.
Along with the letter of support for the maglev project, the Council agreed to write detailed comments in opposition to the competing proposal, the privately funded DesertXpress. As currently proposed, the DesertXpress would run electric or diesel/electric trains on steel to steel rails between Victorville and Las Vegas without stopping in Barstow.
City staff expressed concerns that the train would represent a significant hit to sales tax revenues due to travelers bypassing Barstow. Rowe also noted that one of the rail line's proposed route alternatives would cut directly through the Barstow Industrial Park and the site of a planned Wal-Mart distribution center.
City staff met with representatives from DesertXpress to ask that the train be rerouted to run along Interstate 15 through Barstow, with a stop in the Lenwood area; or, failing that, that it skirt around the industrial park, Rowe said. A draft environmental impact report released in late March stated did not include analysis of the city's proposals but noted that they might be included as alternative in the final environmental impact statement.
The DesertXpress project, because it is privately funded, is not eligible for stimulus funds, and whether the maglev project would qualify for funds is in dispute. Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Rob Kulat said previously that the maglev project would qualify for high speed rail stimulus funds — which are not earmarked for specific projects — but he said Wednesday the it is the FRA's position that the Maglev project is not eligible for funds under the wording of the stimulus act because the project does not lie within one of the ten designated high-speed rail corridors identified by the FRA.
Cummings stated via e-mail that being in a designated as a high-speed rail corridor is just one of 14 criteria that the Secretary of Transportation may consider when deciding what projects to fund.
Aside from the uncertainty of stimulus funds, the maglev proponents must find 20 percent matching funds before they can use $45 million in federal funds were freed up for the project by a 2008 transportation bill.
The FRA's analysis in the DesertXpress draft environmental statement noted that the California/Nevada Super Speed Train Commission currently exists only in Nevada and has no authority to implement the project in California.
Rose Melgoza, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, said that the state does not consider the maglev project to be a realistic candidate for stimulus funding because it is in such an early stage of development and does not currently plan to get more involved with the project.
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