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Funding secured for Valley high-speed rail

POSTED November 25, 2011 10:00 p.m.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has finalized an agreement to secure the nearly $1 billion in federal funds needed to begin construction on the Central Valley segment of the planned statewide 220-mile-per-hour train system, the CHSRA announced this week.

The agreement guarantees the CHSRA will receive the funds, initially awarded in October 2010 and May 2011, which play a pivotal role in the Authority’s new funding plan.

“The announcement of the federal funds makes good on the promise of our new draft business plan that the funding for the first segment is identified, committed and we are moving forward,” said Thomas J. Umberg, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors.

Construction on the initial, $6 billion, 130-mile test segment is expected to commence near Fresno in fall 2012, following California Legislature approval. The five year construction project is expected to employ 100,000 people.

By the time construction on the $98.5 billion railway is completed in 2040, more than 1 million jobs will be created, planners say. A further 450,000 jobs will be created by the economic activity generated by the high-speed rail network.

But critics in the state and federal government alike still question the high-speed rail plan, which saw cost estimates surge from an initial $35.7 billion estimate to $98.5 billion this month. That plan relies in large part on federal funding – slashed from the 2012 federal budget by the Republican-led House just days before the authority’s announcement of the $1 billion secured for the Central Valley segment.

The funding cut – pulling about $100 million from the federal budget – will not affect California High-Speed Rail, the authority said, as the authority had not anticipated applying for the 2012 allotment. But should funding not be restored in the coming years, the project could be in jeopardy; the CHSRA’s business plan relies on a further $33-36 billion from federal sources, with contributions beginning around 2015.

The cut also will not defund the $3.3 billion in federal funds already awarded for the system, according to the authority. But some lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) have advocated taking back the grants, to be used instead for highway construction.

Reallocating that money for highways would require approval by both the House and the Senate, and may face legal actions following the Authority’s move to secure funding.

It also would be a mistake, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as constructing the high-speed rail line is expected to use less land, cost less, and be more energy efficient than expanding highways and airports to meet growing demand.

“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years,” LaHood said. “Investing in a green, job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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