With many right of way consulting firms working on
the project, there were various approaches to First
Written Offers (FWOs). Some were not well received
by property owners and generated complaints. In
response, we developed an orientation session with a
list of do’s and don’ts to be implemented by all right of
way firms across the board. What we learned was that,
in order to reduce negative exposure, this kind an
orientation should have occurred prior to any of the
offers being made.
How has the public reacted and what kind
of community outreach is being done?
Don: Similar to many other major infrastructure
programs in California and the U.S., the high-speed rail program has also been seen as somewhat
controversial among certain political or special
interest groups. Several lawsuits in recent years
delayed the Authority’s ability to begin acquiring
property in the Central Valley. The courts ultimately
ruled in our favor, and now communities that were
once hesitant about high-speed rail are embracing it
as the project creates jobs and opportunities for them.
We regularly host Community Open House meetings,
working group meetings and other stakeholder
engagement events to engage the public and help
them better understand the project and its many
benefits. Most of the meetings have “information
stations” staffed by project delivery personnel, displays
with the alignment alternatives
and stations where a property
owner can input their address and
see its proximity to the proposed
alignment alternatives. Additionally,
community organizations are
offered the opportunity to request
representatives from the Authority to
speak at their events.
Can you describe your right
of way process?
Don: High-speed rail follows
essentially the same right of way
processes as other public works
projects: appraisal, acquisition
and relocation. We manage excess
properties as necessary with a view
toward selling off the remainders.
Our goal is to negotiate and settle
amicably. Eminent domain is used
only when necessary.
How has technology
impacted your project?
Don: Our right of way database and
document storage systems keep the
need for paper files to a minimum
and add quick response times to
user inquiries. We’ve also been able
to utilize various digital renderings
in demonstrating how the project
will look in relation to remaining
and/or adjacent properties.
How do you see this project
shaping future rail projects?
Don: This is the largest public
works project and the first
truly high-speed rail project
in the United States. We’re
blazing uncharted territory
organizationally with a hybrid of
public and private sector staff. And
we’re pushing the envelope in what
our partner agencies have been
used to doing. I believe that their
involvement in this project will
help the federal government one
day establish a national high-speed
rail network that it will oversee in
coordination with other states to
improve connectivity across the
nation, following the example set
by the California High-Speed Rail
By 2029, Phase 1 of the system will run from San Francisco to the
Los Angeles basin in under three hours at speeds capable of over
200 miles per hour.
Realignment project in Fresno, California to make way for the high-speed rail line.