Supporters of high-speed rail in California are rejoicing, after the Senate put its stamp of approval Friday on a multi-billion dollar funding package to help begin the construction of the actual rail line.
The Assembly approved the measure one day earlier. It now heads to Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it in to law.
The bill provides almost $8 billion in funding for the first stretch of the rail – a 130-mile line from Madera to Bakersfield.
About $6 billion of that $8 billion is allocated for the design and construction of the line as well as the necessary acquisition of certain lands along the rail route.
The remaining $2 billion will go toward fixing existing transportation systems all across the state. For instance, some of that money will go toward improving Metrolink commuter lines in Los Angeles.
Sen. Michael Rubio (D – Shafter) says now is the best time to start building because interest rates are low and the project will help create jobs.
“Now is a time when we have so many individuals in the construction industry that will be put to work and be able to provide better for their families,” he said. “So when I look at those two indicators, I couldn’t think of a better time to build high-speed rail.”
According to the state’s High Speed Rail Authority, five different companies are in the process of bidding for rights to build parts of the 130-mile Madera to Bakersfield line.
The Authority will choose a winner in December, according to its website, with construction to begin soon after. The site also lists April 2016 as the projected completion date for the first stretch of high-speed rail.
But, Rep. Shannon Grove (R – Bakersfield) says construction might be halted by litigation. She says some farmers in the Central Valley, who could be displaced by the rail, might sue to stop the acquisition of their property.
“I think it’ll result in a lot more battles. I really do believe it will be litigated,” said Grove. “There are a lot of farmers that this proposed rail line is supposed to go through, and they’re not happy about it.”
Grove voted against the funding as did Sen. Jean Fuller (R – Bakersfield).
Fuller criticized fellow legislators, saying they rushed into the vote and pledged too much money.
“So, here we are committing ourselves to a huge project we probably do not have the money for. And, certainly we don't have a plan that we believe in or we think can be completed,” she said.
There is currently no money earmarked to build the rest of the project, which includes several hundred more miles of rail and is slated to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The estimated cost to complete the entire line, including the 130-mile stretch between Madera and Bakersfield, is about $68 billion.