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Transportation Nation

Calif. High-Speed Rail's One Vote Survival Reveals New Anti-HSR Faultline

Monday, July 09, 2012

(Oakland, Calif -- KALW) California Governor Jerry Brown scored a razor-thin legislative victory on Friday when the California State Legislature voted to release initial funding for high-speed rail—a major infrastructure project that he wholeheartedly supports. The plan got the green light four years after voters first approved a bond measure that would help build a network connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The vote to release $8 billion in state and federal funds came at the tail end of sessions on Governor Brown’s latest state budget, which includes potentially drastic cuts to many social, educational, health and public safety programs.

The state still has not secured any of the additional money needed to complete the $68 billion project.

Plans for the bullet train have become increasingly unpopular among voters in California. And up until the last minute on Friday, the future of the project remained uncertain. The State Assembly had already approved funding for initial construction by a wide margin the day before, but the sharply divided state senate also had to approve the proposal. Support falls mostly on party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against the plan. If just five Democrats joined Republicans, that would have been the end of bullet train bond money.

In the end, four Democratic senators voted against the plan—including Transportation Committee Chair Mark DeSaulnier (Concord), Alan Lowenthal (Long Beach), and Joe Simitian (Palo Alto), all of whom had played key roles in the development and oversight of the plan. Fran Pavely (Agoura Hills) also voted against the plan.

Senator Simitian—a long-time supporter of high-speed rail—said that while he staunchly supports the vision of high-speed rail in California, he could not support the current plan, which he said was very different in “scope, content and price,” than what voters approved in 2008.

Sen. Simitian said passage of the high-speed rail plan could imperil Brown’s chances of getting voter approval for statewide tax increases in November that could generate as much as $40 billion in badly needed revenue.

Not a single Republican senator voted to support the plan, and many invoked the upcoming tax initiative and cuts to education in their statements prior to the vote.

The money approved on Friday will combine with $3.3 billion in federal Recovery Act funds, to pay for initial construction of the high-speed rail line in the Central Valley, running between Fresno and Bakersfield.  In addition, money approved on Friday includes $2 billion in “connectivity” funds—that will pay for improvements to existing commuter rail lines in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Approving the funding is just one of many hurdles for the beleaguered plan. The bullet train faces ongoing lawsuits, as well as vocal opposition from Central Valley farmers.

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Transportation Nation

California High Speed Rail To Cost a Third Less

Monday, April 02, 2012

A rendering of California's high-speed rail (image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority)

Better, Faster, Cheaper? That's the promise being pushed by the agency in charge of California's ambitious high-speed rail project as it unveiled an updated business plan for the ambitious project to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco by bullet train. The California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan that now puts the price tag at $68.4 billion with a completion in 2028.

That's about five years sooner and $30 billion cheaper than a draft plan released last fall that drew wide criticism as a potential boondoggle. The new cost is still $25 billion more than the plan approved by voters four years ago in a referendum to allow the issue of bonds to finance the project.

The new business plan was created at the behest of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown who has remained a steadfast supported of high-speed rail unlike Republican governors in Wisconsin and Florida. Some lawmakers questioned the convenience of the new estimates in the updated business plan.

Some of the cost and time savings will come from a "blended" approach to rail construction, merging the new bullet trains with existing commuter lines. It would involve upgrading commuter rail in L.A. and in the San Francisco Bay Area while building the initial HSR line in the Central Valley as planned using federal funds.  Los Angeles gets linked to the Central Valley first, then San Francisco in a following phase.

To pay for it CAHSRA wants to use "cap and trade" revenues as a potential "dedicated funding source." Private investment continues to be spotlighted as a major source.

with Julie Caine -- KALW, and Associated Press

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