California will get more than $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money to help build an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and San Diego.
The grants announced by the Obama administration would fund the largest public works project in California history, with construction likely to start with a stretch from Los Angeles to Anaheim.
“I will say this about California, as typical, has been way ahead of the curve,” Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood said during a Thursday morning conference call. “The people there have been working and planning for high-speed rail for more than a decade, and they are willing to put up their own taxpayer dollars.”
In November 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1A, a $9.95 billion bond measure to build a north-south rail line. Trains traveling up to 220 mph could make the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles trip in about 2-1/2 hours.
“This is something I proposed when I ran for governor in 1990,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who with colleague Barbara Boxer was also on the conference call. “Now, in 2010, it is happening.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has accused the administration of not investing enough in California, led a chorus of local officials praising the award.
“Today’s announcement is fantastic news for job creation in California,” where the unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, Schwarzenegger said. “By showing leadership and including high-speed rail funding in the Recovery Act, the Obama administration is strongly supporting California’s high-speed rail project.”
Schwarzenegger said the project will create an estimated 600,000 jobs.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa echoed the governor’s comments about the project’s economic benefits.
“High-speed rail will bring jobs to California when we need them most, building a sustainable state-of-the-art transit network,” Villaraigosa said. “With 14 percent unemployment in L.A., we’re ready to get people to work. This funding couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The federal money will be used in a dollar-to-dollar match with the state to build the first part of the system from Anaheim to Los Angeles.
LaHood said he expects the rail project to draw private investors to the Golden State.
“I had a meeting recently with 30 manufacturers from around the world to persuade them there is money here,” LaHood said. “There will be development opportunities. We expect to see developments along the route and around the train stations that are being built.”
Boxer said the money is coming as the state goes through tough times.
“This announcement will lift us all,” Boxer said. “It will be a model for the country.”
Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who chairs the California High Speed Rail Authority, said the money will help the entire state, by moving the project closer to reality.
“A California high-speed rail system truly gives each of us this opportunity to change the future of California for our children and grandchildren,” Pringle said.
While California’s allocation is short of the $4.7 billion for which it had applied, the grant was the largest awarded for any single project.
President Barack Obama was in Florida to announce the grants for the rail projects, including one there between Tampa and Orlando.
“Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created,” Obama said. “That investment is how we can break ground across this country.
“There’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.”