Slumping employment levels during the coronavirus crisis has provided the California High-Speed Rail Authority an opportune moment to tout a new job-creation milestone in the Central Valley.

The agency announced that as of May 31 it employed 4,000 people, 14 percent of them Kern County residents, working to build viaducts and other foundational structures as part of 119 miles of fully funded and approved construction work.

“We have expanded the work in the Central Valley and tripled the number of workers dispatched to the job sites over the course of the last year,” rail authority CEO Brian Kelly said in a news release June 11. “This is the strength of our program — stable work, stable paycheck, stable families and a more stable future for California.”

Among the specific projects taking place in Kern County is the construction of pillars in the Wasco area. The series of columns is designed to support a viaduct carrying bullet-train passengers between Bakersfield and Fresno.

The rail authority said workers are on site drilling and placing shafts just east of the BNSF Railway. The structures will allow high-speed passenger trains to cross over existing freight tracks. It said 26 columns have been poured and the viaduct will eventually be about a mile long.

Another viaduct project is under way north of Wasco that will cross Pond Avenue. The rail authority said crews are preparing to pour concrete as part of an abutment west of Highway 43.

In the rail agency's news release, union official Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, called the project's 4,000th worker a great milestone for local economies and workforces.

“The vast majority of these workers are from counties in the Central Valley. That is thousands of workers and hundreds of apprentices on the 119-mile long construction site that are building a critically needed third mode of mass transit that is clean, fast and will relieve congestion on our state’s highways, freeways and airports,” he stated.

Critics of the project note it's projected to greatly exceed its original budget and only a small portion of the money required to complete it has been identified.

Even so, the timing has helped generate jobs at a time of historically high unemployment.

Kern's unemployment rate jumped in April to 18.6 percent, a full point above its peak during the Great Recession. Local construction payrolls shed 1,600 jobs overall that month, shrinking almost 10 percent, the state Employment Development Department reported.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf

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