By Brian Rinker
July 19, 2012
Governor Jerry Brown approved Wednesday billions of dollars in government funding to initiate construction on a controversial high-speed rail line that will one day cut across the Central Valley and connect San Francisco with Los Angeles, despite threats of lawsuits and criticism that the cash-strapped state can’t afford such a massive project.
Billed as an investment in California’s future and a jobs creator, the $4.7 billion initial investment will be matched by an additional $7.9 billion in federal funds.
During a ceremony at the Transbay construction site in downtown San Francisco, Brown signed funding bill Senate Bill 1029 with political supporters, including Mayor Ed Lee, and construction workers wearing hardhats and reflective vests. Earlier in the day, Brown performed a similar ceremony in Los Angeles at Union Station. Both stations will anchor the future 800-mile high-speed rail line.
Brown and supporters say the electric high-speed rail line is necessary to accommodate the transportation needs for the state’s growing population, while using energy sources more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels. As global oil reserves dwindle and prices skyrocket, a high-speed electric rail system could be a huge benefit to the state’s infrastructure, said supporters.
Voters originally approved $40 billion in bonds for the rail project in 2008, but the cost has since grown to upwards of $68 billion. The ballooning costs, lack of funding, political hurdles and environmental issues have all fueled the fire of criticism. Critics said the rail project has changed to such a degree it is no longer the same proposition voted in.
“I know there are fearful men – I call them declinists – who want to hide in a hole and hope something changes,” Brown said. “This is the time to invest, to create thousands of jobs like this project.”
While California will be the first state in the country to adopt a high speed rail network, Brown said 16 countries around the world already have successful high-speed rail networks.
Brown has advocated for rail systems since his first stint in the Governor’s mansion.
“I signed my first rail bill 30 years ago,” Brown said to a cheering crowd. “It’s taken this long to get things going.”
The high speed rail network will connect commuters from San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Central Valley at an estimated 220 miles per hour. Although it may be decades before the rails are completed, tens of thousands of jobs are expected to be created.
The bill will provide funding to build the initial 130-mile stretch of rail line between Merced and the San Fernando Valley and give billions to regional transportation agencies. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will get $61 million to build 1.7 miles of light-rail for the Central Subway, a project connecting Chinatown with downtown.
BART will get $145 million for new cars and to lengthen track at the Millbrae Station, and Caltrain will get $706 million to electrify its system.
The state’s investment in these projects will trigger additional federal funding that will total in the billions.