Spending on Track for New High-Speed Rail

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - California Gov. Jerry Brown reiterated support for the state's beleaguered high-speed rail dream by signing a new law to authorize construction of the project twice Wednesday.
     SB 1029 guarantees an additional $7.9 billion in federal and local money to improve the transportation statewide. The governor's office says $4.7 billion of California's spending will take the form of bonds.
     Brown touted the bill in ceremonies at LA's Union Station and San Francisco's future Transbay Transit Center - both future hubs for California's high-speed rail system.
     "This legislation will help put thousands of people in California back to work," Brown said. "By improving regional transportation systems, we are investing in the future of our state and making California a better place to live and work."
     Regional improvements include a 2-mile light rail link between existing Metro transit and Union Station in Los Angeles, and $700 million to electrify the Bay Area's Caltrain system. San Diego's light-rail system will also get an upgrade, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system will get new train cars under the massive infusion of California's transportation system.
     Assembly Speaker John Perez also praised authorization for the first leg of construction. "This ambitious project will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars for our state, and my colleagues and I have been very pleased to work with the governor to keep this project moving forward," Perez said.
     Darrell Steinberg, president pro Tempore of the state senate, agreed.
     "California's transit system cannot stagnate because the facts are unforgiving: 20 million additional residents by 2050," Steinberg said in a statement. "You can pave farmlands with new roads and blackout skies with airplanes but the air we breathe will be no better than a tailpipe. This project brings an infusion of energy into rural areas of high unemployment and provides relief for urban traffic gridlock. Most importantly, it's an investment in California's future."
     Lawmakers claim that construction of the project's first segment - Merced to the San Fernando Valley - will begin next year and will create 20,000 jobs annually over five years. The entire system is advertised to handle 950 million passengers a year.
     Statutory language, however, imposes conditions on the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) that foreclose expenditure of any state money on the project if not met.
     SB 1029 requires the agency to submit a detailed funding plan and an accountability plan. It must also obtain environmental clearances for the entire project and line up local "sponsors" to carry out day-to-day operations of the project.
     There are no fewer than a dozen lawsuits pending against CHSRA by local agencies up and down the Central Valley, claiming the rail authority is running roughshod over California's stringent environmental laws to ram high-speed rail and its desired route through - regardless of what local residents want or whether there are cheaper alternatives.
     Brown's office nevertheless maintains that SB 1029, and the federal and local funds, represent a $6 billion investment in the Central Valley, an area particularly hard hit by the recession and high unemployment. Another $3.6 billion goes to Northern California, and Southern California will take in the remaining $2.8 billion, the governor says.