January 16, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
Washington, DC—Dan Richard of the California High Speed Rail Authority said there’s a lot of misconceptions about the recent California court ruling regarding the source of funds the authority can tap to build the nation’s first high speed rail network. He testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where Rep. Jeff Denham said he would submit legislation that could potentially stop the project. Watch Video Interview
Back in November 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1 A, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, that allocates about $10 billion in bonds towards building the core segments of the rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
That’s a lot of money, but it has to be matched with federal funds, and Republican House members of the railroad subcommittee aren’t keen about allocating billions for high-speed rail. Indeed, Denham said that the project’s current price tag of $68 billion could be used to repair and build out new waterway, highway and aviation project throughout the state.
Rep. Denham consistently challenged Richard over how the Authority would be able to come up with the funds to match the $3 billion the Obama Administration has already allotted for the project in order to comply with Prop. 1A. But Richard responded that the Authority is in compliance.
In November Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the Authority would have to revise its business plan in order to access about $8 billion in voter-approved bond money. Denham asked Richard if the Authority can’t access that money, how would the Authority proceed with the project.
Richard explained that the authority’s revised business plan complies with the judge’s order to identify all funding sources and resolve outstanding environmental reviews.
“We believe we have the funds at hand, but what we need to do to comply is to show that and finish the environmental review process,” said Richard.
Richard is hopeful that the Authority will be able to leverage private sector investments but the challenge for the authority is to make sure it can first access the unspent bond money and monies from California’s cap and trade program. Governor Jerry Brown recently announced a proposal to sweep $250 million from the cap and trade program towards the high-speed rail project but the state’s legislature has to approve it.
In an interview, Mr. Richard said if the authority could build a critical 82-mile of track starting from the Central Valley going south with bond-approved money that could be the catalyst that triggers private sector investment and thereby allay House Transportation and Infrastructure Republican members’ obsession with costs.
“If we build from the Central Valley across the Tehachapi Mountains to Palmdale I think that’ll trigger private sector investment and change everything. That’s the pivotal segment,” said Richard.
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