The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board last week certified the final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for the Merced-to-Fresno section of the high-speed train project.

The authority says it now anticipates starting construction in late 2012 or early 2013. The authority also chose a north-south route and station locations for Merced and Fresno.

The Merced-to-Fresno high-speed train section is approximately 65 mi long and will follow a route known as the “hybrid” alternative, according to the authority. This alignment was identified as the preferred alternative out of three primary alternatives studied in 2011.

The “hybrid” alternative generally parallels the Union Pacific railroad tracks and State Route 99 between Merced and Fresno, a route responsive to community and civic feedback, according to the authority. To avoid impacts to downtown Madera, the alignment travels east of Madera and generally parallels the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad corridor.

The board also selected the downtown Merced station location at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and W 16th St. and the downtown Fresno station on Mariposa Street.

In the next step, the Federal Railroad Administration will consider approving the project and issuing a Record of Decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, scheduled for June 2012.