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High-speed rail opponent Jeff Denham to chair House railroad panel

POSTED January 22, 2013 10:30 p.m.

The California high speed rail plan may see detours in the future, as Republican Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) was named chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee for the 113th Congress.

Congressman Denham, a notorious critic of the high speed rail project, initiated an amendment prohibiting funds for the railway in 2012, despite protests from President Barack Obama and a majority of the Democratic Party.

As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Denham has raised concerns regarding the proposed cost and construction time projections that have increased dramatically compared to the proposal California voters originally approved in 2008.

California’s high speed railway is scheduled to begin construction near Merced this year after gaining approximately $3.2 billion in federal funds. The railway is intended to unite Los Angeles and San Francisco by way of trains traveling between 210 to 220 mph, surpassing a 520 mile division. The signed contract expected the segment in the Central Valley to cost up to $1.8 billion.

“At a time when we’re over-burdened by state and federal debt and already struggling to find ways to pay for existing programs, we should not be throwing money we don’t have at a project most don’t have confidence in,” said Denham in September. “Instead of taking responsibility for the obvious, this Administration and the California legislature would rather California ignore its growing debt and continue a seriously-flawed HSR project that would drive California closer to insolvency.”

Proponents for high speed rail say the project will relieve highway congestion and divert dependence on oil for transportation. Critics of the project are troubled by the lack of oversight in authority and rising costs, which have grown since the initial idea was proposed. It is estimated that the completed project would cost $68 billion by 2029, $38 billion of which would be provided by the federal government.

Denham has said he would rather direct funding to local highways. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office is set to overlook the California railway project through a series of studies.

As of now, contractors submitted bids to outline the first 30 miles track in the Central Valley this week. No building has been declared yet, so Denham may have the final say in the matter.

 Denham has doubts about the project, but has met with the California High Speed Rail Authority chairman and chief executive officer at Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.

The House rail panel's prior chairman, now chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Bill Shuster (R-PA), regards Denham as a prominent official worthy of progressing transportation services.

 “Jeff Denham has proven himself to be a strong leader on transportation issues, and I look forward to working with him closely as we tackle our nation’s pressing transportation challenges,” said Shuster. “His leadership will aid the Committee in pursuing an aggressive agenda focused on strengthening and improving America’s rail transportation system and increasing efficiency and accountability.”

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