Senators Feinstein & Padilla Want Wildlife Corridors As Part Of High Speed Rail Project

Brightline West, which is seeking to construct a high speed rail line from Victorville to Las Vegas, should design its project to ensure that it provides at least three wildlife corridors to allow threatened and endangered species that call the Mojave Desert home to transit from one side of the tracks to the other, California’s U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, have told California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Florida-based Brightline West has proposed and has completed some preliminary work toward establishing a 187-mile span of rail tracks that would convey a train carrying passengers moving at a speed of up to 180 miles per hour. The right-of-way for the $8 billion rail system would lie between or run parallel to Interstate 15.
The Federal Railroad Administration on July 8, 2011 issued a record of decision with regard to the project, known as the DesertXpress High-Speed Passenger Train. The record of decision entails a tentative approval of the project, summarizing the environmental review process the Federal Railroad Administration conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Railroad Administration’s environmental procedures. The record of decision identified the alternatives considered by the Federal Railroad Administration, addressed comments received during the National Environmental Policy Act process for the proposal, and identified the parameters of the project. Last month, the State of California issued a preliminary approval for Brightline to proceed with the construction of a 48-mile high speed rail line from Rancho Cucamonga to Victorville.
Taken together with a rail line from Orange County to Rancho Cucamonga, the high speed rail system is projected to whisk those travelling from Southern California to Las Vegas in slightly more than one-third of the time it currently takes to drive to the Nevada gambling mecca.
Feinstein and Padilla, however, were critical of the lax precautions the project proponents and government regulators are taking with regard to the undertaking’s environmental consequences. Among the problems the project represents, the senators told Governor Gavin Newsom in a letter dated November 1, are threats to the survivability of bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, mountain lions, Mojave ground squirrels, bobcats, mule deer and other wildlife in the desert.
In their letter to Newsom, Feinstein and Padilla called upon the governor to require  Brightline to incorporate into the rail project at least three wildlife corridor overpasses or underpasses. There is concern several species on state and federal endangered or threatened species lists would be vulnerable to the speeding trains as they cross the tracks.
“Brightline has not committed to build wildlife crossings even though it will be seeking tax-exempt private activity bonds for this $8 billion project, with expected revenue of nearly $1 billion,” Feinstein and Padilla wrote in the letter to Newsom. “It has come to our attention that Brightline High Speed Rail’s proposed Brightline West project route from Las Vegas, Nevada to Victorville, California does not account for essential wildlife corridors for some of the desert’s state and federally-protected species. To resolve these unnecessary impacts to our desert, we ask you to direct Caltrans [The California Department of Transportation] to use its existing authorities and oversight of the project’s right-of-way, to require Brightline to include no less than three wildlife corridor overpasses in its design and to construct these structures as part of its upcoming rail construction.”
The train is to use zero emission trains. Feinstein and Padilla’s letter acknowledged that, stating, “We agree that Brightline will be ‘offering millions of travelers a green way to travel,” as stated in their marketing material. To accomplish this, the project must heed the recommendations of scientists, regulators, wildlife advocates, and California’s own Department of Transportation.”

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