California gets $368 million for rail projects

California landed about $368 million for rail projects today, part of a $2 billion pot redistributed by the Obama Administration after Florida’s new Republican governor turned it down in February.

But the debate over the wisdom of California’s high-speed rail aspirations will heat up even more tomorrow with the release of a crucial legislative analysis.

The Golden State gets $300 million for a 20-mile extension along the Central Valley Corridor, part of the project that ultimately aims to provide 220 mph high-speed rail service from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Work funded in this round will extend the track and civil work from Fresno to a “wye” junction connecting to San Jose to the west and Merced to the north. It also gets $68 million to buy 15 high-performance passenger rail cars and four quick-acceleration locomotives for the Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin, and Capitol corridors.

“It is a testament to the strength of California’s project that we have won 40 percent of every federal dollar awarded for the development of high-speed rail,” California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Curt Pringle said in a news release. In the past 15 months we have won the lion’s share of federal dollars, unlocked state bond funds and began engaging the private sector to secure their future participation, so that we can begin construction and begin creating thousands of quality jobs next year.”

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called Gov. Jerry Brown this morning to congratulate him on the award.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, noted a strict “Buy American” requirement will be applied to these awards, so that U.S. manufacturers and workers will receive the maximum economic benefit. “Investments in transportation are key to unlocking this country’s economic potential,” he said in a news release. “I commend this decision to direct money to a proven job creator and to require that the equipment is made in this country. If America is going to make it, we have to Make It In America again.”

Garamendi also said that by strengthening a modern infrastructure network, this investment will create thousands of California jobs, advance environmentally responsible transportation, connect commercial markets, and unleash economic growth. He cited the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that every $1 invested in infrastructure adds $1.57 to the economy.

Tomorrow, however, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office will release a new report on California’s HSR project, covering “some major challenges the state faces in developing the project and new approaches that could increase the odds of its success.” Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor will meet with reporters early tomorrow afternoon to discuss the findings and recommendations.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.