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The bill now allocates a total of $1.9 billion in bonds for regional rail improvements in Northern and Southern California. The upgrades include electrifying Caltrain, a San Jose-San Francisco commuter line, and improving Metrolink commuter lines in Southern California.
Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is managing the project, said California would have lost billions of dollars in federal aid if the Senate fails to pass the bill before adjourning Friday for a monthlong recess. California entered a contract that called for the federal government to provide money for building the Central Valley segment if the state also put up its share, he said.
“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,” Richard said.
California was able to secure more federal aid than expected after Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin turned down money.
Steinberg, the Senate leader, said the vote signaled the “biggest, boldest public works project in decades in California.” He likened it to the state water project that was first undertaken by Brown’s father, Gov. Pat Brown, in the late 1950s. The massive network of dams, reservoirs and canals is still used today.
The bill approved Friday authorizes the state to sell a portion of a $10 billion high-speed rail bond that voters approved in 2008 under Proposition 1A. The bond passed with 53 percent support, but a recent Field Poll showed support for Brown’s November proposal to temporarily raise state sales and income taxes could slip considerably if lawmakers approved funding for high-speed rail.
Before Friday’s vote, at least half a dozen Democrats in the 40-member Senate remained opposed, skeptical or uncommitted. Some were concerned about how the vote would impact their political futures, while others were wary about financing and management of the massive project.
One dissenter, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said public support had waned for the project, and there were too many questions about financing to complete it.
“Is there additional commitment of federal funds? There is not. Is there additional commitment of private funding? There is not. Is there a dedicated funding source that we can look to in the coming years? There is not,” Simitian said.
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