Federal Government Delivers Another $1 Billion to California for HSR
Today the US Department of Transportation put another $928 million into the hands of the California high speed rail project and out of the reach of House Republicans:
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today awarded a $928.6 million grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for initial construction of California High-Speed Rail. Construction will begin next year in Fresno, creating tens of thousands of jobs in California.
“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years,” said Secretary LaHood. “Investing in a green, job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom.”
Today’s grant, when combined with voter-approved state support and previously-awarded federal dollars, will fund the construction of the first usable segment of the California system in the Central Valley. In the recently released business plan, the Authority embraced a phased implementation similar to those used for international systems. The first construction project will put more than 100,000 people to work during the next five years. Over the course of the network’s construction, more than one million jobs are expected to be created, and the economic activity spurred by the new system is expected to add up to 450,000 new non-high-speed rail jobs to the California economy by 2040.
As Californians For High Speed Rail’s Executive Director Daniel Krause explained in an email to their members, this has the effect of keeping that money out of the hands of anti-rail Republicans:
Previously, almost $3 billion had been obligated (including money for the Transbay Terminal HSR station project). Today, the final $928.6 million was obligated, bring the total guaranteed federal funding close to $4 billion. The only thing that can threaten this money now is if state lawmakers don’t move forward with construction in the Central Valley in 2012. Now is a great time to contact you representatives to remind that we now can start this visionary project and create jobs at a time we desperately need them.
Republicans are still planning to try and get that money though. Ralph Vartabedian, the anti-HSR reporter at the LA Times, wrote about their newest efforts:
The case against the bullet train is being led by a group of California Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the House majority whip, who have argued the project is deeply flawed and has become unaffordable as the cost has spiraled to $98.5 billion.
Denham, a subcommittee chairman on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he believes all of the project’s grants can be rescinded by Congress and should be reallocated to highway construction in the Central Valley. Republican staffers are formulating plans to grab the bullet train money, which they said has not been spent or put under contract.
This isn’t news, of course. Jeff Denham has been trying since February to defund California high speed rail. Apparently he believes his constituents do not want jobs but instead want dirty air.
Denham is a first-year member of Congress who will face a stiff battle to keep his seat in 2012. Last month former astronaut Jose Hernandez announced his candidacy for the CA-10 seat, which has been drawn to be more competitive and include more Latinos. Denham apparently thinks that going hard right against rail and jobs is going to help him in 2012. I’m not so sure.
Vartabedian also hints at a new strategy for House Republicans in their quest to kill California high speed rail: convince Northeastern Democratic Senators to take California’s money and spend it on the Acela corridor:
Even if the House were to rescind all or a portion of the California funding, the U.S. Senate would have to agree. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been a resolute supporter of the project. One political strategy that has surfaced to entice votes from East Coast Senate Democrats is to propose reallocating the California funds to passenger rail projects in their states.
The upcoming House hearing will be chaired by Rep. John Mika (R-Fla.). Mika has often expressed support for the concept of high speed rail, citing the East Coast as having the necessary population density and urban environment to support it. California officials say Mika supports high speed rail, but he has never endorsed the state’s project and now appears to have joined the skeptics.
Let’s pause a moment and laugh at Vartabedian’s inability to properly spell John Mica’s name.
OK, back to the story. California has the necessary population density, but facts never stopped Republicans before. The bigger question is whether Senate Democrats would screw over Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer this way.
Somehow I have a hard time seeing John Kerry, Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and the other Democrats who represent the NEC states agreeing to do this and to undermine Obama as well.
Still, it’s another sign that Congressional Republicans hate high speed rail and are determined to kill it. Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake for California, and if the state legislature moves ahead and agrees to spend the money voters approved to start the project, California high speed rail will begin construction and become that much harder to kill.