Sunday, January 04, 2009

Californians remain upbeat on fed aid for HSR

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California's federal elected officials celebrating voter approval of Proposition 1A in November said they would pursue federal funding to advance the state's high speed rail plan. Despite economic turmoil, those vows appear to be intact.
State transportation officials reportedly may seek as much as $20 billion in federal funding to supplement the $9.95 billion in state bonding power approved by voters Nov. 4. The 700-mile system is estimated to cost at least $40 billion, linking San Diego and Los Angeles to termini in San Francisco and Sacramento, the state capital.

Officials believe the Obama Administration's infrastructure investment program will include rail in general, and California's high speed rail plan in particular, as a means of signaling support for projects emphasizing energy efficiency and environmental balance.

California's congressional delegation includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both of whom have voiced outspoken support for the state's high speed rail efforts. Just days after the election, Feinstein said, "There is legislation that will set up 11 regional systems in the U.S. for highspeed rail, and we will qualify as one of them." She added, "I think we've now got our ducks in order to be No. 1 on that list, and as an appropriater, that will be a job of mine."

"It seems like the stars are aligned," said Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a member of the California High Speed Rail Authority. The authority anticipates $12 billion to $16 billion in federal funds, $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion in private investment, and $2 billion to $3 billion in local and/or county contributions.

Quentin Kopp, chairman of the authority board, said the state will seek stimulus funding to accelerate construction of some or all of the 600 grade-crossing projects required, in order to meet the Obama Administration's desire to fund projects that can move quickly. "That work could begin the earliest -- within six months to two years," Kopp said.

California could also benefit if a bill introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., identifies $23 billion in bonds for high speed rail projects. At least $10 billion of that money would be dedicated to California and the Northeast Corridor.