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California to get $2.25 billion in high-speed rail funding

(The following story by Richard Simon appeared on the Los Angeles Times website on January 28, 2010.)

LOS ANGELES California will receive $2.25 billion, the largest amount for any state, in federal economic stimulus funds to develop a high-speed rail line running from Anaheim to San Francisco -- a big boost for the long-discussed project aimed at accelerating the state's economic recovery.

Overall, the Obama administration plans to distribute $8 billion for work on 13 rail corridors. Those include a Midwest line from Chicago to St. Louis and one in Florida running from Tampa to Orlando.

Trains on the proposed Anaheim-to-San Francisco line, which is projected to cost about $42 billion, would whisk passengers the 400 or so miles in no more than 2 hours, 40 minutes. The project would take a decade to complete, with extensions to San Diego and Sacramento planned.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will announce the funding today during an appearance in Tampa. Administration officials will be in other parts of the country to tout the grants as a job-creation measure at a time when Democrats are increasingly anxious about losing congressional seats in the upcoming midterm elections.

The money will help "lay the groundwork for a nationwide infrastructure expansion that will spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel, and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs," a White House official said Wednesday.

Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said he was "delighted" by the news, and noted that California had pledged to match federal funds dollar for dollar.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the funding would "create tens of thousands of jobs across California, reduce air pollution and congestion on our roads, and help us build a cleaner, more efficient transportation system."

California had sought $4.7 billion in federal funds. But the state was competing with 44 applicants from 23 other states, seeking about $50 billion. California argued that it was further along in planning than other states, citing voter approval in 2008 of a $10-billion high-speed rail bond.

About $100 million more in federal funding will come to California for other rail improvements, including new tracks and crossovers to increase train speeds between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has complained that California sends more money to Washington than it gets in return. His press secretary, Aaron McLear, said Wednesday that the "one-time stimulus is completely separate from the ongoing funding formulas that are robbing California taxpayers and forcing us to subsidize programs in other states."

How much more California could receive for high-speed rail is unclear because of Obama's proposal to freeze non-defense spending to trim the deficit. But an administration official, who requested anonymity when discussing White House plans, said that in addition to the stimulus funds, Obama remained committed to seeking $5 billion over five years for high-speed rail projects.

An additional $2.5 billion was included for high-speed rail in the recently approved transportation spending bill, and lawmakers have talked about including as much as $50 billion for such transit in a multiyear bill that will be written later this year.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

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