FRESNO, Calif. — 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 most expensive US 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 most populous US state. It would be America’s first high-speed rail system. Engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile segment of track in Fresno, a city of a half-million people with soaring unemployment. Rail is meant to help Fresno, with construction jobs now and improved access to economic opportunity once the project is finished. 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 is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic.
Such sentiments can be heard throughout the Central Valley. Growers complain of misplaced priorities, and residents wonder if their tax money is being squandered.