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How Much Will California Get From Obama's $53 Billion High-Speed Rail Proposal?

Paresh Dave |
February 8, 2011 | 11:43 a.m. PST

Staff Reporters

California lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington D.C. now face a huge task of turning a $50 billion state project slowly chugging along into a huge success by championing a six-year, $53 billion funding proposal for high-speed rail initiatives that the White House announced Tuesday.

A Congress controlled by Democrats approved $10.5 billion in grants for high-speed rail projects throughout the country last year, but a divided Congress for at least the next two years charged with cutting federal spending may be reluctant to approve Obama's grand-scale vision for making high-speed rail lines accessible to 80 percent of the country by 2035. Next year's budget, which Obama will unveil on Monday, only releases $8 billion of the $53 billion he would eventually ask Congress to authorize.

Half of the money would go toward upgrading existing lines while the other half would be devoted to building new projects such as those in Illinois, Florida and California.

A mix of NIMBYism, environmental concerns and worries about a lack of oversight have slowed progress on California's project, which would connect northern cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco to San Diego, Riverside and Los Angeles in the south.

At the state level, legislators will need to assure that the California High-Speed Rail Authority gets its money's worth as it begins to dole out billions of dollars in contract and seeks to avoid a massive rise cost projections. California's 800-mile project has picked up $9 billion in funding from a voter-approved bond measure and $5 billion in federal funding.

A series of bills sitting in the state Legislature right now would: require more financial disclosure from authority board members, require local governments to development master plans for areas along the rail line, promote the purchase of train cars from California factories, create the Department of High-Speed Trains and order a rethinking the project altogether.

Construction is set to begin next year in the Central Valley on a 120-mile segment from Bakersfield to the outskirts of Fresno.

The authority will have to start getting signatures on contracts with private companies willing to invest in the line. If the state officials can get their side of the job done, California's congressional delegation will have an easier time lobbying for the government to send perhaps as much as $20 billion more California's way. 

One man these lawmakers will have to go through is House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. John Mica (R-FL).

“This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio," he said of Tuesday's announcement.

Mica supports the high-speed rail design for congested corridors such as in the Northeast, but doesn't see projects in other areas as economically-viable.

Reach executive producer Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



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