California High Speed Rail: Federal Aid Not Required

That was the message from Gov. Jerry Brown after a state appeals court unlocked a lower court's hold on $9.95 billion of state bond funds for the $68 billion project. He exchanged words with HSR opponent House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
California High Speed Rail Authority / Wikimedia Commons

While Gov. Jerry Brown was no doubt greatly relieved by the July 31st state appeals court ruling, we are reminded by Alejandro Lazo of The Wall Street Journal of the difficult funding road ahead for the California high speed rail (HSR) project, ironically in part due to the powerful congressman whose Bakersfield district the high speed train will serve.

"Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has vowed to block any additional federal money for the project," writes Lazo. In fact, McCarthy co-sponsored legislation by fellow Central Valley Republican Congressman Jeff Denham in January to suspend federal funding for the California High Speed Rail project.

It's well within the capability of the state of California [to build the project without federal help]," Mr. Brown said in an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal. "We would like more federal help. We get federal help for our roads and our bridges…but right now the Republicans, under Mr. McCarthy, have decided that it's better to treat high-speed rail as a political football, than as a great civic opportunity."

"The majority leader said in a statement Sunday that the program originally sold to California voters in 2008 is 'a far cry' from the current one the governor is pushing, and he would continue to fight the program in Congress," writes Lazo.

"I will do all that I can to ensure not one dollar of federal funding goes to boondoggles like California's high-speed rail," Mr. McCarthy said. "The government's handling of hard earned taxpayer dollars must be based on merit and facts, not upon a desired legacy."

While it is generally acknowledged that Brown does view high speed rail to be a legacy project, particularly by project opponents, McCarthy must know that funds awarded to the California project, or any rail or transit project for that matter, must undergo scrutiny by the Federal Railroad Administration or Federal Transit Administration "based on merit and facts".

Speaking of the FRA and McCarthy's district, on June 27 the FRA "issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the 114-mile Fresno to Bakersfield Section [see CHSRA map (PDF)] of the California High-Speed Train System," according to an FRA press release. "The ROD is the last step in the National Environmental Policy Act process and clears the way to break ground on the project," it continues.

Meanwhile, Tim Sheehan of The Fresno Bee writes that demolition began last month in Fresno to clear way for the project on the first construction section, Merced to Fresno [see map (PDF)]. Sheehan earlier wrote that construction could start soon in Madera.

Correspondent's Note: Subscriber-only content of The Wall Street Journal article will be available to non-subscribers for up to seven days after August 4.

Full Story: California Plans Bullet Train Without More U.S. Aid

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