by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
State lawmakers in California voted late Friday to move ahead with a controversial proposed high-speed railway that has been the centerpiece of President Obama’s vision for a nationwide network of trains.
The California state Senate approved on Friday $2.6 billion in state spending for a railway supporters say will quickly link San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major cities.
The vote provided Obama with a rare win on high-speed rail after several Republican governors rebuffed federal money for train systems last year. Congress also eliminated future funding, pronouncing Obama’s rail vision dead.
Over the objection of Republican state lawmakers however, a closely-divided California Senate also appropriated money from the Obama administration for the controversial high-speed railway. Since 2009, the Obama administration has awarded more than $3 billion to the California railway, which had already been approved earlier this week by the state’s equivalent of the U.S. House, the General Assembly.
California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard hailed the final votes to approve the proposed railway as visionary on Friday evening.
“The Legislature’s action sets in motion a statewide rail modernization plan for California,” Richard said in a statement.
“Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level,” he continued. “This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness.”
The California high-speed railway has drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers in Washington and the Golden State. When President Obama awarded $8 billion from the 2009 economic stimulus package to states who were proposing to build high-speed railway, California received more money than any other state.
Republicans in Congress seized onto reports last fall that the cost of building the line has increased from $33 to $98 billion since it was approved by California voters in a 2008 referendum. The House voted last fall to eliminate funding that was dedicated to high-speed rail in the 2012 fiscal year, which is scheduled to end in September, and they did not include any money for railways in their budget for 2013.
GOP governors in states like Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio returned money for high-speed railways in 2010 that was offered by the Obama administration from the stimulus. But California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said the vote in his state’s legislature to move forward with the high-speed railway proposal was validation of voters’ support for the project.
“In 2008, California voters decided to create jobs and modernize our state’s rail transportation system with a major investment in high-speed rail and key local projects in Northern and Southern California,” Brown said in a statement released Friday evening. “The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also praised California lawmakers for deciding to keep the proposed railway on track, saying late Friday that the vote was “a big win for the people of California.
“I congratulate the Legislature on taking action today to strengthen and grow the California economy,” LaHood said in a statement. “No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows. With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative.”
LaHood added that California’s high-speed railway would “ultimately deliver fast, efficient, reliable service between San Francisco Bay and the Los Angeles Basin in less than three hours.
“Californians have always embraced bold visions and delivered public projects that chart the way for the rest of the nation; today’s vote continues that tradition of leadership,” he said.