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Washington haggles over high-speed rail funding

California project expected to create 100,000 jobs over five years

POSTED February 15, 2011 8:58 p.m.

The Obama administration’s six-year, $53 million plan to invest in the development of high-speed rail has earned plaudits from rail supporters, but House Republicans say the cost is too high in the down economy.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the plan on Feb. 8 in Philadelphia, calling for $8 billion in high-speed rail funding this year alone – up from $2.5 billion a year ago. In announcing the plan, Biden said the program would give 80 percent of Americans access to rail service within 25 years, and would create needed jobs.

“I agree with the president and vice-president that nationwide infrastructure is one of the most important projects of our time,” said Rep. Cathleen Galgiani (D-CA).  “Not only for the clean and efficient public transportation throughout California and eventually the nation it will provide, but also for the economic shot-in-the-arm for California by creating thousands of jobs for Californians today.  Nowhere is it more needed than the Central Valley, my district.” 

On Feb. 9, House Republicans announced a plan to cut $35 billion from the federal budget, including an elimination of all high-speed rail subsidies.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result and that is exactly what Vice President Biden offered today,” said House Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).  “If the Obama administration is serious about high-speed rail, they should stop throwing money at projects in the same failed manner.”

Federal high-speed rail spending is already having an effect on California’s planned high-speed rail system. According to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the $3.1 billion in federal funding already received will create nearly 100,000 jobs over five years.

“True high-speed rail that travels faster than 200 miles per hour over long distances between California’s major metropolitan centers will mean strengthening our state’s economy in the long term,” said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the CHSRA. “In the near term, development of this system will mean tens of thousands of jobs at a time when we need them the most and a huge boost that will assist our state’s economy.” 

Construction on California’s high-speed rail system will begin next year, with an initial 120-mile segment from Fresno to Bakersfield – a distance nearly double the initial proposal, made possible by federal funding. Upon completion, the system would span 800 miles, with trains traveling up to 220 miles between the Bay Area, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Modesto area.

The first phase of the project, which does not include the northern Central Valley spur from Merced to Sacramento which would service Turlock, is projected to cost about $43 billion. California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond in 2008 to help finance the project, but additional federal funding will likely be needed to complete the system.

A portion of the $53 million announced Feb. 9 would go a long way toward making the system a reality.

“This is the kind of bold investment in the future of our nation’s infrastructure that will get the attention of the private sector and make high-speed travel a reality in the United States,” van Ark said. ”Californians are already doing their part to invest in and develop a fast, clean and low-cost transportation system, and we are pleased to have the partnership of our federal government.”

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

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