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Local legislators lobby for Florida high-speed rail money

POSTED April 1, 2011 9:15 p.m.

Local political leaders are hailing the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s unanimous decision on Wednesday to pursue a further $2.43 billion in federal funding recently made available – and urging the federal government to allocate those funds to California.

Fifty state legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown, two U.S. Senators and six members of Congress from the San Joaquin Valley and East Bay have already pushed for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Administrator Joseph Szabo of the Federal Railroad Administration and the President Barack Obama Administration to direct the money to California.

“Many elected officials, business people and community members from Merced to Kern counties have worked diligently to, in some cases for many years, to reach this point in the project,” said State Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani (D-Livingston), who authored California’s 2008 High-Speed Rail Bond. “I think they have earned the gratitude of their communities and the entire state.”

Should the CHSRA receive all $2.43 billion, the entire backbone of the system, linking Merced to Bakersfield with stations in either city, could be completed. Additionally, the authority could build north 39 miles toward the Bay Area, or south to the Tehachapi Mountains.

Even just obtaining half of the money, which was returned to the federal government by the State of Florida, would allow for the Merced to Bakersfield route.

“Running track to Merced is a win for the Valley, a win for taxpayers and a win for the future sustainability of high-speed rail in California,” wrote U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA18) in a letter signed by five other members of the California delegation, urging support of the funding. “I’m glad to see that now we’re getting somewhere,” he continued, referencing the “train to nowhere” slight aimed at

the project when the initial northern terminus was announced as Borden, a gold rush ghost town just south of Madera.

Should the entire $2.43 billion end up in California, the money could create as many as 64,000 well-paying jobs, according to the authority. That’s on top of the 100,000-plus jobs which will be created with the $5.5 billion already secured for the high-speed rail system, which will see 220 mile-per-hour trains traverse 800 miles of rail across the state, stretching from San Francisco to San Diego.

“California has proven that it can and will lead the nation with a vision of true high-speed rail,” said Curt Pringle, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. “Every mile of track laid in the Central Valley represents another step toward realizing a statewide system to connect north and south, which will bring private investment, job creation and economic strength to California.”

The CHSRA will offer a 20 percent match in its effort to secure the funds. The funds would not pay for electrifying the track, purchasing trains or operating passenger service, which would come at later dates.

The first phase, from San Francisco to Anaheim, is projected to cost $43 billion, with construction beginning in the Central Valley in 2012. A Sacramento spur, possibly with a stop in Modesto, would come at a later date.

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

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