The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking nearly $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funds away from Ohio and Wisconsin and giving most of it to California.
California will get up to $616 million of the forfeited money, significantly increasing federal backing for the state's ambitious high-speed train plans. Thursday's announcement brings to more than $3.5 billion the federal funds earmarked for high-speed rail in the state.
Along with an equal sum in state matching money, the reallocation will allow the state to extend the southern end of the system's first segment perhaps as far as Bakersfield. It also provides money to design stations in Merced and Bakersfield. And that could soothe some hurt feelings in the North and South Valley after the state decided to start building near Fresno.
The state is benefiting because new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected their shares of stimulus funds for high-speed rail from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that their money will be transferred to high-speed train projects in 13 other states.
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In addition to $616 million for the California High-Speed Rail Authority -- the state agency tasked with planning and building California's proposed 800-mile system -- about $8 million will be provided to Caltrans for upgrading inner-city rail lines.
The authority's board selected a 54-mile stretch -- from Borden, south of Madera, to Corcoran in Kings County -- as the first piece of the system to be built starting in late 2012 with federal and state funds. The initial segment will now be longer to the south, although it's not yet clear whether the funds will be sufficient to go all the way to Bakersfield.
"This is yet another vote of confidence that California's project is on the right track toward creating tens of thousands of jobs for our state and constructing the nation's first true high-speed rail system," said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the state rail authority.
California is required to match the new money with an equal number of dollars, bringing the total infusion of new cash to more than $1.2 billion. The matching funds will come from Proposition 1A, a $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure that state voters approved in 2008.
Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, said rail officials told her the reallocation includes money to plan and design high-speed-train stations in Merced and Bakersfield.
Officials in Merced and Kern counties were bitterly disappointed last week when the authority chose the Borden-to-Corcoran section for initial construction, instead of connecting either Merced or Bakersfield to Fresno.
But Galgiani, who wrote the legislation that put Prop. 1A on the ballot, said money for Merced and Bakersfield stations "signals our commitment to completing the entire Central Valley section."
California's program calls for a system to be running by 2020 with trains hauling passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles through the San Joaquin Valley at up to 220 mph. Valley stations are planned in Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield, and a station location is being studied east of Hanford in Kings County. The state rail authority estimates the total cost of the system at about $43 billion.
Later branches would extend the system to Sacramento and San Diego.
Even before Thursday, California already had commitments of nearly $3 billion from the Department of Transportation for high-speed rail. The federal government is requiring that virtually all the money be used in the central San Joaquin Valley.