California lawmakers urged to release bond funds for state rail project

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A coalition of former transportation officials, advocates and labor leaders have written a letter to California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Toni Atkins urging them to release voter-approved bond funds for advance the state’s high-speed rail project.

The letter is the latest in the skirmish over California’s embattled high-speed rail project, which is estimated to cost $105 billion to build a full line from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Democrats in the state, the majority party, are split on spending the final $4.2 billion of the $10 billion in Proposition 1A bonds approved by California voters in 2008.

Work continues on the 120-mile Central Valley segment of the high-speed rail project as lawmakers waver over the use of bond financing.

California High Speed ​​Rail Authority

Governor Gavin Newsom had proposed spending the remaining bond funds to complete the Central Valley segment, but lawmakers left the funds out of the fiscal year 2022 budget. The U.S. High Speed ​​Rail Coalition wants lawmakers to include the funds in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

“Together, these state and federal investments will help expedite the completion of an initial operating segment while advancing construction on the project’s critical bookends in the Los Angeles Basin and Bay Area,” according to the letter from the coalition.

Approval of the issuance of the bond funds “would signal the continued support of the State of California, prompting the Biden administration to provide significant federal investments to the project,” the letter said.

“The [state] The Senate agrees with the vast majority of voters that public transportation improvements — high-speed rail and other public transportation — are needed across California, and more funding is needed to make that happen,” Atkins said in a statement. email response. “The Senate continues to be eager to reach an agreement, and we remain hopeful that we can achieve this through the legislative budget process. »

Newsom is expected to release its May budget revisions in the coming weeks, which typically kicks off extensive budget discussions leading to final budget approval on July 1.

Former U.S. Department of Transportation secretaries Ray LaHood, Anthony Foxx and the late Norman Mineta, who died on Tuesday, and High Speed ​​Rail Authority Chairman Emeritus Rod Diridon have been named co-chairs of the coalition’s executive committee.

The coalition pointed to a recent poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times that found 56% of registered voters in California want to continue building the high-speed rail project.

The poll, released in mid-April, found voters in favor of the state continuing to build the high-speed rail project, even with operations stretching only from Bakersfield to Merced in the Central Valley. by 2030 and to the Bay Area by 2033. as currently planned. When the bonds were approved by voters in 2008, the project was expected to be completed in 2020 and cost $33 billion.

The $105 billion price tag is also based on some 2019 estimates that don’t factor in inflated construction costs, which could push the price up, according to the Office of the Legislative Analyst, the government’s nonpartisan tax adviser. ‘Legislative Assembly.

But the coalition argued that the rail authority is moving beyond past problems and “making significant progress” with 90% of the plots needed for construction in the Central Valley purchased and the hope that the whole system 500 miles will be entirely environmentally friendly. approved by fiscal year 2023-24.

“As the project costs continue to generate news, we must keep in mind that building an equivalent capacity of highway or aviation would cost almost twice as much as finishing the high-speed rail project. speed in California,” the letter read.

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