Anger as work begins on California bullet train

  • In this photo taken Wednesday, July 17, 2013, Gary Lanfranco, owner of the Cosmopolitan Cafe, standing, talks with lunchtime customers at the downtown Fresno, Calif. eatery that sits in the path of the high-speed rail line. Lanfranco's restaurant is one of hundreds of properties the state needs to buy or seize in the Central Valley to start construction of the first 30 mile segment of the rail line. "I've put the last 45 years of my life" into the restaurant, says Lanfranco, who was dissatisfied with the initial offer he received from the California High- Speed Rail Authority. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

FRESNO — Trucks loaded with tomatoes, milk and almonds clog the two main highways that bisect California's farm heartland, carrying goods to millions along the Pacific Coast and beyond. This dusty stretch of land is the starting point for one of the nation's most expensive public infrastructure projects: a $68 billion high-speed rail system that would span the state, linking the people of America's salad bowl to more jobs, opportunity and buyers.

Five years ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved the idea of bringing a bullet train to the nation's most populous state. It would be America's first high-speed rail system, sold to the public as a way to improve access to good-paying jobs, cut pollution from smog-filled roadways and reduce time wasted sitting in traffic while providing an alternative to high fuel prices.

Now, engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile segment of track here in Fresno, a city of a half-million people with high unemployment and a withering downtown core littered with abandoned factories and shuttered stores.

Rail is meant to help this place, with construction jobs now and improved access to economic opportunity once the job is complete. But the region that could benefit most from the project is also where opposition to it has grown most fierce.

"I just wish it would go away, this high-speed rail. I just wish it would go away," says Gary Lanfranco, whose restaurant in downtown Fresno is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic.

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