Thursday, January 18, 2018

California okays funding for high-speed rail line

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers approved billions of dollars Friday in construction financing for the initial segment of the nation's first dedicated high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The move marked a major victory for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and the Obama administration, which have promoted bullet trains as job generators and clean transportation alternatives.

"No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement applauding the vote. "With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative."

The bill authorizes the state to begin selling $4.5 billion in voter-approved bonds that includes $2.6 billion to build an initial 130-mile stretch of the high-speed rail line in the Central Valley. That will allow the state to collect $3.2 billion in federal funding that could have been rescinded if lawmakers failed to act Friday.

California was able to secure more federal aid than expected after Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin rejected money for rail projects.

Brown pushed for the massive infrastructure project to accommodate expected growth in the nation's most populous state, which now has 37 million people. He said the project is needed to create jobs.

Members of the state Senate voted 21-16 along party lines after intense lobbying by Brown, Democratic leaders and labor groups. The bill, which passed the state Assembly on Thursday, now heads to Brown for his signature.

"The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again," Brown said in a statement.

The first segment of the line is to run from Madera to Bakersfield. The final cost of the project from Los Angeles to San Francisco would be $68 billion.

Republicans blasted the Senate decision, citing the state's ongoing budget problems.

"It's unfortunate that the majority would rather spend billions of dollars that we don't have for a train to nowhere than keep schools open and harmless from budget cuts," Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, said.

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, said the project would push California over a fiscal cliff.

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