Visalia on-board with High Speed Rail study

There has been a lot of controversy regarding high speed rail in Kings County. But there appears to be a growing a sentiment in Tulare County that the project is inevitable and it’s time to start planning for it.

Visalia Mayor Steve Nelson made comments last month that he would like to see Tulare County, and more specifically the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG), conduct a “connectivity study” of options for transportation from Tulare County to the California High Speed Rail Station in Hanford. TCAG is the transportation authority for the County of Tulare and its eight incorporated cities.

“The State is going to build this station and they have already started the overall project,” Nelson said. “I just want to be sure Tulare County has a seat at the table.”

Nelson and TCAG Executive Director Ted Smalley both sat-in on a Hanford City Council meeting where Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle presented a proposal to design a station with the High-Speed Rail Authority and also look at public transportation to take Tulare County ridership to and from the station. The Hanford City Council ultimately decided to do nothing in order to avoid being stuck in the middle in the heated debate between the County of Kings and the California High Speed Rail Authority. Instead of fighting a project that has already begun, Nelson said he would like to work with the High Speed Rail Authority to pay for a portion of the connectivity study.

“It doesn’t make sense to build a project to keep people out of their cars and then ask them to drive to the station from another county,” Nelson said. “We have 450,000 people in this County compared with just 150,000 in Kings County. Their two largest cities (Hanford and Lemoore) combined are about the same size as Tulare.”

Nelson said he would prefer to see a light rail system connecting Visalia and Hanford. The mayor of one of country’s 200 largest cities said most metropolitan areas need light rail for longer trips due to the frequent stops made on bus routes.

He said making plans for that growth now will avoid the difficult process of building a light rail system after the growth occurs. However, Nelson said the study would look at other options such a express bus to connect with Hanford or Kings County’s bus system or an shuttle bus that went exclusively to and from the station.

“This is a regional station that needs to provide transportation to both Tulare and Kings Counties,” Nelson said.

Councilmember Greg Collins said he would be more in favor of a bus route or shuttle service because it is an extension of a service that currently exists. Visalia Transit already connects every community along the Highway 198 corridor including Farmersville, Exeter, Woodlake and Three Rivers.

“You could hop on one of our buses to Hanford as quickly as the rail since the highway has been widened,” Collins said regarding Highway 198. “The station is slated for the east side of Hanford which makes it even closer.”

The City of Visalia is already working on shuttle service to and from Fresno early next year. The shuttle route will include stops at the Visalia Transit Center, the Visalia Airport, the Fresno Airport, Fresno State University, Manchester Center and the Courthouse Park (Fresno). The last two stops are major bus transfer points for Fresno Area Express (FAX) allowing passengers to get to other Fresno destinations. The City has already purchased three buses and has enough funding to run the service for three years thanks to more than $200,000 in transportation and air quality grants.

Nelson said no plans will move forward until funding source has been identified. He said once there is funding, TCAG would be the logical agency to move forward with the study and its oversight.

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