California's bullet train dreams have had a nightmare of a year, including lagging public support and a need for billions in a bad economy.
But supporters eked out a dreamy victory today:
The state Senate approved an $8 billion package to fund the first leg of the train (from nowhere to nowhere):
The first-leg will go 130 miles, from Madera to Bakersfield. The line is eventually expected to take you from L.A. to the Bay Area, but at a whopping cost of $120 each way.
The Assembly already passed the legislation, so the next step is the governor's desk.
President Obama and California Gov. Jerry Brown were big backers, arguing that the train would be a job-creator in a bad economy. That, however, is debatable, according to a recent UCLA study.
Brown said this today:
In 2008, California voters decided to create jobs and modernize our state's rail transportation system with a major investment in high-speed rail and key local projects in Northern and Southern California. The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again.
The California High Speed-Rail Authority chair Dan Richard also sounded triumphant, stating:
Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level. This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness.
But $8 billion for a state that perpetually billions in the hole? Much of the nearly $6 billion for the line will come from state bonds and federal funds. Another $2 billion was committed to local transportation projects.
City News Service broke down the rail cash:
The money includes $2.6 billion in rail bonds passed by California voters in 2008 and $3.2 billion in federal money …
The whole high-speed rail combo plate is projected to eventually cost $100 billion. Maybe more.
Some folks aren't happy about it. The California Trucking Association VP Michael Shaw says the money in today's legislation would have been better spent on improving the Golden State's rough-riding roads:
Anyone who drives on a California road or highway knows that potholes, ruts, and gravel are far too common. The use of the critical funds that trucks pay to maintain and restore our roads for high-speed rail debt puts California commerce and drivers at greater risk.
SB 1029 would sell bonds that California's General Fund cannot afford to pay for a project that will not move a single passenger for a decade while tens of millions of Californians struggle to make their way to work and back home on crumbling roads. We need to increase our investment in our roads to keep what we have at a standard to keeps traffic and commerce flowing.
[Added at 5:36 p.m.]: This just in, from Teamsters Rail Conference director John Murphy, who's totally cool with this whole bullet-train thing because it will mean gigs for his union members:
It's a terrific day for the residents of California and the rail union members who will put their skills to use in building and operating trains on this high speed rail line. The legislators in Sacramento got it right when they voted to fund this project since it will help hundreds of people find good union jobs and the high speed rail line will provide a viable alternative to car and plane travel in the state.