Californians will likely be able to vote on a $10 billion bond measure to build a high speed rail line stretching from Northern California to San Diego in November.
The state legislature has removed the bond from the ballot on two previous occasions, but proponents are optimistic that a bill currently in committee will increase the measure’s chances of staying on the ballot.
Assembly Bill 3034 – scheduled to be heard in Appropriations on May 7 – amends and updates some of the language in the original 2002 bond measure to address some concerns of Governor Schwarzenegger as well as those of environmental and business groups.
The high speed rail line is expected to cost $40 billion when its 800 miles of construction are complete. AB 3034 would make it possible for private investors to buy into the project – something the governor has been strongly advocating.
“Because the high speed train will make a profit out of operation, there is room for private companies to invest and get paid back through fare revenues,” said Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Should AB 3034 be passed, the subsequent financing plan would allow one-third of the cost to be funded by private investment. Another third would come from California taxpayers, while the remaining third would be supplied by federal matching funds, Morshed said.
The bill also recognizes a major concern of the Sierra Club about possible damage to protected Central Valley grasslands in Los Banos. AB 3034 specifically states that there will not be a station built in the Los Banos area.
The original bond required the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment to be built before any other, but Galgiani’s bill would allow the High Speed Rail Authority to grant funds to whichever segment is the most prepared. This is intended to encourage local authorities to compete for regional funding.
It requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature to remove the bond measure from the ballot – an action the legislature chose to take in 2004 and 2006.
“There were other high priority needs [the legislature] wanted to ask for the voters’ approval on,” Morshed said.
But now with gas prices on the rise and concerns about global warming abounding throughout the state, it’s looking like Californians will finally get to vote on the project that has been in the works since the early 1990s.
The proposed system would extend from San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, run through the Central Valley and Los Angeles and end in San Diego. The high speed “bullet” train operates at speeds up to 220 mph, making the express travel time from San Francisco to Los Angeles less than two-and-a-half hours. If approved, the groundbreaking project is expected to be completed by 2020.
Advocates stress the importance of the train as an alternative to driving or flying. California’s rapidly increasing population will boostthe demand for travel within the state beyond the capacity of highways and airports.
“We’re running out of space for airports and roads to handle the increased demand for travel and so we have to resort to other means,” Morshed said. “High speed rail is great way of meeting the demand.”
In addition to meeting in-state travel needs, the electric train is seen by many as a critical step toward combating global warming.
“[High speed rail] will be an essential part to reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Ryan Loney, a sophomore UC Davis student organizing an informational forum about the project on campus. “It’ll cut down on flights between Northern and Southern California, which have a huge carbon footprint on our state.”
Loney has noticed an enormous interest in high speed rail from California college students. Many have gotten involved online though blogs and facebook.com, he said. The Facebook group dedicated to the project has over 23,000 members.
“I think [college students] are more excited about this than anybody else because we’re concerned about our future, the environment, the state’s economy and how it’s going to be sustainable,” Loney said. “We’re the ones that will have to live with the consequences of the decisions made.”
Loney and the California Student Sustainability Coalition will be hosting a forum on high speed rail Wednesday at 7 p.m. in 1001 Geidt. There will be speakers from the High Speed Rail Authority and UC Davis’ Department of Environmental Policy, as well as an informal question-and-answer session.
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