Congress kills high-speed rail federal funding

November 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending bill Thursday that kills high-speed rail funding for the 2012 fiscal year. But that does not mean the bullet-train project is dead in California.

Critics have been saying all along that this project is too expensive. But if California can't count on the feds for more money in future years, some say: Don't start the high-speed rail project.

The federal transportation bill may have zeroed out any funding this year for high-speed rail projects across the country, but California's bullet train dreams are still alive.

Nearly $4 billion in stimulus money is already in hand, and about $10 billion in voter-approved bonds are ready to go, enough to get Phase One going next year, from the Merced area to Bakersfield.

"This is one of the reasons why we made conservative assumptions in our business plan," said Dan Richard, board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "Our draft business plan assumed no federal funding of this kind for at least the next three years."

Critics say this is yet another reason to pull the plug on high-speed rail in California.

They're still reeling from sticker shock when the project's price tag recently doubled to nearly $100 billion for rail service connecting San Francisco to Southern California using trains traveling 220 miles per hour.

Loss of additional federal funding is just another nail in the coffin.

"I would suggest that the legislature act to put something before voters to give them the opportunity to bow out of this gracefully," said Assm. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), the assembly budget vice chairman.

Congressional Republicans who took away funding believe federal money should eventually invest in a high-speed rail system for the Northeast corridor only.

"These are people who obviously don't know what's going on in California," said Assm. Roger Dickensen (D-Sacramento), who sits on the Assembly Select Committee on High-Speed Rail. "Three of the top five most heavily used passenger rail corridors in the nation are in California."

High-speed rail supporters believe federal funding will come in time and therefore California's project should proceed.

The Central Valley segment is expected to create 100,000 jobs alone.

"It comes at the expense of working people and the future of our country if they take away this money," said Cesar Diaz, legislative director, California State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The California plan assumes up to $22 billion in federal funds in order to achieve the first segment to be operating in 2021.


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