High speed rail rushes to get stimulus money

August 6, 2009 8:47:51 PM PDT
Californians may be seeing the bullet trains sooner than expected. The state's High Speed Rail Authority decided to move up the deadlines so it can qualify for federal stimulus dollars dedicated to such projects across the country. The Obama Administration requires projects to break ground by September of 2012, four to six years earlier than the original plans. Federal money is desperately needed to supplement the $10 billion financing bond voters approved last year.

"People, when they passed the bond, they expected something to happen, and in economic stimulus dollars, the requirement is to spend those dollars, start building something and putting people to work and we're prepared to do that," High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Curt Pringle said.

But not everyone is happy about the sooner deadlines. They question whether there will be enough time to settle lawsuits and get public input.

Portions of the routes, especially those through neighborhoods, are being disputed by residents who like their peace and quiet.

"The biggest danger is that citizens don't get heard, alternatives don't get considered; they don't want to study any route alternatives and to me, that's absolutely wrong when you're doing a $40 billion project," California Rail Foundation spokesperson Richard Tolmach said.

The project engineers insist the early deadlines will not shorten the period for public hearings or environmental reviews.

Train passengers who support high speed rail think seeing the project starting in three years is good news.

"The sooner we can make transportation available to the masses, quicker, the more people are going to use it and the highways will be less crowded," train passenger Charles DeFevere said.

But critics warn there could be a price for acting too fast.

"You can't short-cut the process on high speed trains, you end up with a mess," Tolmach said.

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