California High Speed Rail Project Threatened with Loss of Federal Funding

On Wednesday, backers of California's embattled $68 HSR project were grilled by the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who wants to kill it.
California High Speed Rail Authority / Wikimedia Commons

At stake is not new federal funding for high speed rail, of which there is none listed in the omnibus bill unveiled Monday for California (nor for any other state for that matter), but existing funds promised to the California project.

"Six lawmakers from California testified before their own colleagues at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, with Republicans -- led by Turlock's Jeff Denham -- opposing the project and Democrats including Fresno's Jim Costa generally supporting it," writes Curtis Tate of The Bee's Washington Bureau.

The Federal Railroad Administration has continued to make payments on its $3 billion commitment to the project. Denham questioned whether the Obama administration should continue to make those payments until the legal issues are resolved. He introduced legislation, H.R. 3893 [readers can vote and send email to Congress members via Popvox] to suspend the federal spending. 

Denham targeted FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Hedlund (see her testimony) as well as the California High Speed Rail Authority's chairman, Dan Richard. Both assured lawmakers "that there was no reason to stop federal payments to the project in spite of the setbacks."

However, "the state faces an April deadline to make a $180 million payment required to keep the federal money coming." That deadline explains what perhaps was mistermed here as a Hail Mary pass to keep the project alive by funding it with $250 million from the state's cap and trade fund [PDF] intended to reduce carbon emissions. However, that allocation must be approved by the legislature.

The hearing did bring out support for the project as well. Backers pointed to the fact that "criticism was less about substance and more about politics. Republicans widely oppose Obama's high-speed rail program, and the entire economic stimulus," writes Tate.

Unlike Republican governors in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio who rejected federal stimulus funds for high speed rail, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown remains a stalwart backer of the Los Angeles to San Francisco project despite recent setbacks.

Full Story: Battle of words over high-speed rail erupts on Capitol Hill

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