California High-Speed Rail Project Takes a Step Forward (on Paper, at Least)
Posted at 5:29 p.m. on June 27, 2014
The Federal Railroad Administration says it has issued a Record of Decision for the 114-mile Fresno to Bakersfield section of California’s High-Speed Train System.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the decision “a major step forward, both for the State of California and for High Performance rail in the U.S.”
The FRA announcement Friday said the decision “clears the way to break ground on the project.” But federal funding for the project remains doubtful, as a Government Accountability Office report underscored last year.
“Obtaining $38.7 billion in federal funding over the construction period is one of the biggest challenges to completing this project,” the GAO said.
The GAO said the 2012 business plan for the project “relies on approximately $42 billion in federal funding for the project’s construction, which includes the $3.3 billion that has already been obligated. The remaining $38.7 billion in federal funds have not been identified in federal budgets or appropriations” but would amount to an average of more than $2.5 billion annually — more than the federal government’s average annual appropriations to Amtrak since 2008.
On June 10, the House adopted an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill that would prohibit funding for high-speed rail in California or for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
The sponsor, California Republican Jeff Denham, said during the floor debate “Why should the federal government be putting more money into a project that is nonexistent today?”
He called it “a project that has no end in sight. Again, no shovels have been put into the ground even though the federal government has obligated $3.8 billion, money that could be used for other priorities.”
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D- Calif., said the state had identified a source of funds to support high-speed rail, cap-and-trade funds which she said was fitting because those funds “are generated through energy conservation, and the high-speed rail system is going to help move Californians in an environmentally suitable way.”
She added, “California is almost always on the leading edge of progress for our country” and “it is important to be visionary here.”