High-speed rail needs cash now

The allocation of much-needed state bond money for the high-speed rail project has gotten off to a slow start, but state lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet before delays throw the project off track.

In 2008, California voters approved the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to fund the construction of a high-speed rail system that would stretch from San Francisco to Anaheim in Southern California. The project will put California at the forefront of public transportation in the United States.

Up for approval in the Legislature is a request to allocate $2.7 billion in Proposition 1A bond funds. With the release of the state funds is a pledge from the Obama administration to provide another $3.3 billion for the project. The money would go to build 130 miles of railway in the Central Valley. Portions of the funding would also go toward other projects, including the electrification of Caltrain, whose track will be used by the high-speed rail system.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the existing rail construction plan has the Assembly votes to approve the bond funding, but there is opposition among Democrats in the state Senate. The objections spawn from the construction starting point being in the Central Valley.

Several key Democrats — including state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, who is the chairman of the Senate transportation committee, and state Sen. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, who chairs a special committee about the high-speed rail project — want to move the funds away from the Central Valley and toward the northern and southern terminuses, which they say will have higher ridership out of the gate. Even state Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto has expressed concerns despite the good the project will do in his district, which includes Caltrain riders.

The lawmakers’ objections to the start of the project are shortsighted. First of all, federal funds are predicated on the construction starting in the Central Valley, where the Federal Railroad Administration wants it to begin. The U.S. Department of Transportation has already threatened federal funds if the state does not begin the project there.

Second, the opposing lawmakers are thinking provincially instead of regionally about a project whose benefits are not limited to any one city or county. High-speed rail is about linking California with a transportation option that is environmentally friendly and frees up airports for travel from outside of the state — both of which are good for our economy as well. The construction spending needs to be thought of in terms of several years and even decades, not a year or months.

Eventually the project will tie together the state, but shortsighted fighting about where the first shovels hit the dirt does harm to the entire project, which hurts everyone. The Democrats in Sacramento need to step up and approve the bond allocations for the project as it is planned, instead of engaging in petty fighting that threatens to derail important funding.

Who to contact

Officials who are questioning release of high-speed rail funds:

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier

Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee

Capitol office: (916) 651-4007

District office: (925) 942-6082

Sen. Alan Lowenthal

Chairman of special committee on high-speed rail project

Capitol office: (916) 651-4027

District office: (562) 495-4766

Sen. Joe Simitian

Senator from Palo Alto

Capitol office: (916) 651-4011

District office: (650) 688-6384

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