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The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday issued a record of decision (ROD) for the 114-mile Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the California high-speed rail system. The decision is the last step in the National Environmental Policy Act process, clearing the way for construction to begin on the project.In the ROD, the FRA selects a preferred alternative as outlined in the project's Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was issued earlier this year. The route comprises alignment alternatives adjacent to the BNSF Railway Co. bypasses of Corcoran, the Allensworth area and the Bakersfield Hybrid alternative. The route will include stations in downtown Fresno, Kings/Tulare and downtown Bakersfield. FRA chose the combination of route alignments because "they are more compatible with the long-range development planning goals of the region, and will result in fewer potential impacts on wetlands and special-status species habitat," according to a press release. The alignment also would reduce displacements and have fewer impacts on religious facilities compared with other alternatives, FRA officials believe. The ROD also includes a Mitigation Monitoring and Enforcement Plan that outlines measures the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) must implement as part of the project to reduce, avoid and minimize potential adverse environmental impacts. "This ROD represents a major milestone in the planning process, which included a rigorous analysis that thoroughly incorporated public input to recommend these routes," said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. CHSRA plans to eventually construct a statewide high-speed rail system, building off the initial Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment. Through the proposed GROW America Act, the Obama Administration has called for investing $19 billion over four years to improve rail safety and invest in a national high-performance rail system.
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