Gov. Schwarzenegger urged to spare rail-design funding

Millions of state dollars that would fund the design of a high-speed rail system are at stake today as a project that would taketrain passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just two and a half hours reaches a crucial crossroads.

San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Supervisor Quentin Kopp turned out Thursday at the Transbay Terminal, the proposed high-speed rail terminal in The City, to publicly send a message to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Don’t cut the $15.5 million in the state budget for high-speed rail design work.

Supporters want the design work to be finished in time for a $9.95 billion bond measure in November 2008 that would help fund the estimated $40 billion project. State legislators have postponed a statewide vote on the bond twice before, in 2004 and 2006.

Today, Schwarzenegger is expected to sign off on the state budget, after implementing $700 million in cuts.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board, which has spent the last 10 years working on the project, had requested $103 million for the design work, while Schwarzenegger proposed just under $1.2 million. State legislators subsequently set aside $15.5 million for the board.

“If it’s $1,159,000, I’ll be saying, ‘See you later,’” said Kopp, who chairs the board. “We need real dollars to pay engineers to design, and real dollars to pay the environmental analysts.”

Ma, who has fought for the funding, said the board’s work would make the bond “a better initiative if we can actually lay it all out for folks.” It would also strengthen the measure, which Newsom said would likely be campaigned against by airline companies.

High-speed rail, which would create trains zipping along at 200 miles per hour, is hailed by supporters as a way to reduce traffic congestion, cut down on carbon emissions, reduce waits at the airport and foster economic growth in the region.

The board is holding public hearings in the region that will help it decide the path the rail will take from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. A decision is to be made by the end of the year.

High-speed rail is envisioned to connect to the Transbay Terminal at Mission and First streets. The City is considering three different proposals for a rebuild of the terminal to transform it into a state-of-the-art transit center.

With the state funding, if voters approve the bond, “we can assure Californians that within 8 to 11 years after we commence construction, we will indeed be in Los Angeles in two and a half hours from here,” Kopp said.

jsabatini@examiner.com


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