Thursday, March 31, 2011

California seeks funds spurned by Florida

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority voted unanimously Wednesday to apply for the $2.38 billion in high speed rail funding that Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected. The money would permit the extension of extenda starter Central Valley segment of a planned 800-mile system.

In California’s favor may be the simple fact that it has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who supports President Obama’s high speed railinitiative.

Influential Republican leaders in Congress want to reduce or even eliminate high speed rail funding as part of multibillion-dollar cuts in the federal budget. Before Florida acted, Wisconsin and Ohio rejected smaller funding amounts for higher-speed rail (HrSR) projects, which the FRA then redistributed.

Acknowledging that “chances of getting the entire Florida allocation are doubtful,” the Los Angeles Times quoted officials as saying that “evengetting a majority of the cash, coupled with state match funds, would allow [extending] the starter track from Merced to Bakersfield.” The California authority's construction schedule calls for work to start in 2012 on a $5.5-billion segment of track and structures from Fresno to the edge of Bakersfield.

“Every mile of track laid in the Central Valley represents another step toward realizing a statewide system to connect north and south, which will bring private investment, job creation and economic strength to California,” authority board Chairman Curt Pringle said after Wednesday’s vote.

(In a recent editorial, Railway Age Editor William C. Vantuono suggested that all of the money rejected by Florida be turned over to California, with the view that if one truly high speed rail line is built in the U.S. and is a success, other states will not only accept but “demand” funds to build their own.)

California joins numerous other states, particularly within the Northeast Corridor, expressing interest in capturing part or all of the funds originally set aside for Florida HSR.