California High-Speed Rail

The recent approval of 160 parcels between Fresno and Kings County for segment two of the high speed rail track has stirred up some excitement for rail backers. As the California High Speed Rail Authority (“CHSRA”) wastes no time in preparing for construction of the second segment, questions about the first segment construction arise. So far, CHSRA has identified 550 properties it says it needs to acquire in order to build the first segment. However, only 71 parcels have been purchased and are available for construction.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s assigned deadline of September 2017 to achieve substantial completion of both San Joaquin Valley segments adds pressure to CHSRA to get its property acquisitions in line. Lack of property means the inability for construction companies, like Tutor Perni Corp., to begin building rail related infrastructures like tunnels, bridges and overpasses. Lagging construction can result in CHSRA not meeting its September 2017 deadline.

A possible cause for the lag in property acquisition could be shaky funding. Until recently, CHSRA was fighting in court to overturn the ruling from the Sacramento County Superior Court banning CHSRA from selling bonds to fund the project. A Court of Appeals decision earlier this month overturned the ruling and allowed CHSRA to continue selling $10 billion in bonds approved by California voters back in a 2008 ballot measure.

Opposition from property owners has also made acquisition of properties more time consuming. Property owners are guaranteed just compensation for CHSRA’s acquisition of private property and in many cases, CHSRA and the property owners have been unable to reach agreement. Absent agreement, CHSRA’s only means of acquiring the properties it claims it needs would be through filing eminent domain actions in court.

The bottom line is that CHSRA needs to move quickly to acquire properties if it hopes to meet its 2017 deadline to substantially complete the two San Joaquin Valley segments. Owner and occupants at properties included in these two segments should be ready, as it is likely that CHSRA will ramp up its acquisition efforts shortly.