California HSR is Peachy
4:27 PM PST on January 6, 2021
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California's high-speed rail project is now poised to receive some $20 billion in federal funding, thanks to yesterday's two senate seat runoff elections in Georgia. "I think this will be great news for CAHSR," said Andy Kunz, President & CEO of the US HSR association. He added that between Joe Biden's support for rail and the expected stimulus bill that will come out of the White House, coupled with a Democrat-controlled legislature, California's rail project in particular stands to gain.
"As the new administration addresses climate change (which is one of their top mandates), it turns out building a national HSR network is the large-scale, fastest way to reduce carbon from our transportation and energy sectors simultaneously, and is the centerpiece of a sustainable America. High-speed rail is the world's greenest form of transportation."
California has an enormous advantage in the competition for stimulus funds because it's not just "shovel ready"--it's under construction. "With federal support for economic recovery, the California High-Speed Rail Authority stands ready to put dollars to work," wrote the authority's Michele Boudreau, in an email to Streetsblog. "We’re well underway on the biggest and greenest infrastructure project in the nation. We stand ready to create more jobs and boost more small businesses both across the state and across the country."
There was never any question that famously pro-rail "Amtrak Joe" Biden will push for billions for rail in any stimulus funding. The question was always whether the legislature will support it. The Democrats held control of the House in the November election. In the Senate, everything came down to runoffs for the peach state's two seats. The election has now been called for Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, giving a slim majority in the Senate and control of both houses to the Dems.
Meanwhile, the election results show the High-speed Rail Authority took the right strategy. Back in 2009, the Obama-Biden Administration allotted $8 billion for HSR, of which California received the lion's share--matched by state funds. But just two years later, the possibility of further funding was cut off when the Republicans took control of the House in 2011.
The Authority focused on building the Central Valley spine since it could be built with funds in hand and will allow trains to hit their maximum speed of over 220 mph while exploiting existing Amtrak connections to get to Sacramento and the Bay Area. This approach will give them the ability to start carrying paying passengers by 2029. As of now, construction is well underway on over 100 miles of right of way. Meanwhile, they have continued engineering, land acquisitions, and prep for high-speed connections directly into Los Angeles and the Bay Area. All of which assured the agency would be perfectly poised to compete for federal funds when the political winds became favorable again, as they now have.
One source close to the project estimates that, depending on how negotiations go in Washington, some $19 billion will be available to continue new phases of construction in the next four or five years. The hope is after that, under Biden's leadership, a permanent funding source will be created for high-speed, intercity rail in America, emulating the highway trust fund and recurring pots of money for transit and aviation. Depending on how negotiations go, this means the entire LA to San Francisco HSR route could be completed sometime in the early 2030s.
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