Obama administration reaffirms support for California high-speed rail
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled the state this week and met privately with Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday to discuss the embattled project, issuing a statement of support through the governor's office.
“Over the past week, I have traveled all over the Golden State and have found a strong base of support for the California High-Speed Rail project, from workers who will build it, manufacturers that will supply the trains to run on it and businesses that will benefit from using it,” LaHood said. “The Obama Administration is committed to High-Speed Rail because it is good for the economy and the nation. I look forward to working with Governor Brown to make this project as successful as possible.”
For the White House, California appears to be the lone subscriber to the president's vision for high-speed rail. Facing budget deficits and sluggish growth, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin have all scrapped their proposals.
Brown has vowed to push forward despite mounting criticism and a growing crisis of confidence and credibility in the project.
The bullet train's initial $33-billion price tag has tripled since 2008, when voters approved bonds for what is planned to be an 800-mile network. While the California High-Speed Rail Authority has secured $12.5 billion for the first Los Angeles to San Francisco leg, the state auditor last month warned that the project has become "increasingly risky."
"The success or failure of the program" depends on obtaining up to $105 billion in additional funding, which has not been identified, the auditor said.
Nevertheless, Brown, organized labor, many members of the Legislature and business groups are pushing to start construction in the Central Valley later this year. They argue that the bullet train represents a bold vision of progress for the state and will create jobs, accommodate future growth and help the environment.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in March 2010. LaHood issued a statement supporting California's bullet train project. Credit: Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg