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Appeals court upholds environmental report for route from San Francisco area to Central Valley

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SACRAMENTO, California — A state appeals court on Thursday upheld a proposed route for California's high-speed rail line connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to the Central Valley.

The decision is a short-term win for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has prioritized the $68-billion project that has become bogged down by legal and regulatory challenges.

The Third District Court of Appeals in Sacramento heard an appeal from San Francisco Bay Area cities arguing that a planned path through Pachecho Pass hurts the environment.

The state argued the project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because it is overseen by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The court upheld the environmental review but also said the project must still abide by state environmental rules.

"Today's court ruling reaffirms our successful compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act," Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said in a written statement.

Plaintiffs' attorney Stuart Flashman says it's not clear if his clients will appeal to the California Supreme Court. He noted that the ruling preserved a valuable tool for future challenges.

"Just because they've gotten through this hurdle, doesn't mean they've finished the race," Flashman said.

The appeals court is also expected to rule on two other high-speed rail challenges. Decisions by a lower court judge last November complicated efforts to begin construction by invalidating the sale of $8.6 billion in state bonds and requiring the state to write a new funding plan.

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