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California High Speed Rail Authority

An artist's conception of the bullet train speeding under the Tehachapi Pass.

FRESNO -- A Fresno firm won a two-year, $1 million contract to take over consulting chores for the Merced-Bakersfield section of the state's proposed high-speed rail project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority earlier this week awarded the consulting contract to Precision Civil Engineering, which is based in Fresno with offices in Bakersfield, Sacramento, Paso Robles and Arizona. The company, headed by Ed Dunkel Jr., was deemed the best qualified from among six companies that responded to the authority's advertisements in August.

"It's huge for us," said Dunkel. "We're excited that the authority has shown this kind of trust in a small business. ... I think we can do a great job for them."

A much larger company, AECOM, had served as the regional consultant for the Sacramento-Merced section for several years before the rail agency opted to re-advertise the contract. AECOM's contract expired at the end of September.

Dunkel said the bulk of the company's work will be outreach and public relations to people and communities within the 110-mile section. The rail authority's scope of work also calls for analyzing route alternatives, station area planning, and developing private investment opportunities. Precision's project team will be based in Sacramento.

Precision Civil Engineering has been involved with different aspects of high-speed rail planning for several years in the Fresno area. The company provided design and environmental analysis work for Fresno County's proposed site for a high-speed rail heavy-maintenance facility, coordinated the rail authority's presentation of its April 2012 business plan in the region, and developed a database of high-speed rail stakeholders in the San Joaquin Valley.

"We were one of the first local engineering firms to work with high-speed rail," Dunkel said. "We stuck our neck out there early on, and fortunately, doing that has come to fruition."

The rail board's meeting Monday in Los Angeles came on the heels of court filings last week by the rail agency arguing that it can first use federal stimulus and transportation money before having to commit any state bond funds for its controversial bullet-train plans. It's one piece of a two-pronged legal argument the agency set forth in its court battle against opponents in Kings County who say the high-speed rail project violates Proposition 1A, a $9.9 billion bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.