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Obama budget contains nearly $35 billion for passenger rail


The Obama administration, which has been urging California to push through growing opposition to its high-speed rail project, asked Congress on Monday for nearly $35 billion in passenger rail funding over the next five years.

The request in its fiscal 2013 budget includes $1 billion for next year and nearly $8 billion in 2018, a massive funding plan that faces difficult odds of getting through Congress. Last year, the Republican-controlled House and even the Democratic-led Senate slashed a similar request and left no new money for any high-speed rail project.

The California project has about $3.3 billion in federal grants from prior years that it plans to use to start construction this year and another $9 billion in bond money approved by voters in 2008. But the project is short $86 billion, and Republicans are attempting to freeze any additional federal funding for it.

Nonetheless, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to California last week and urged state legislators to not back down from the ambitious $98.5-billion project, which would connect Southern California and the Bay Area with electric-powered trains running at up to 220 mph.

In a closed-door session in Sacramento last week, LaHood told legislators that they could expect the administration to fight for  significant additional funding in future years. And LaHood has talked to Gov. Jerry Brown six times in the last year, urging him to reject criticism of the project. Brown has strengthened his support for the bullet train and is planning to make his own state budget request this spring to start construction.

The budget request unveiled Monday would not designate or set aside money specifically for the California project, but the state has managed to win a huge share of passenger rail project funding in prior years.

“We have made the largest investment in California of any state,” LaHood said at a news conference last week in downtown Los Angeles.


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