Golden State High Speed Rail Gets Boost from President

Supporters of California’s high speed rail
efforts found a friend Thursday in President Barack Obama who announced
that $8 billion of the $787 billion federal stimulus package will be
directed toward developing high speed rail systems across the country.

Obama,
flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood, said the country cannot afford not to invest in a major upgrade
to rail travel. He said he understands it necessarily will be “a
long-term project” but said the time to start is now.

“This
is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It’s
happening now,” Obama said Thursday morning according to the AP. Obama
said the rail upgrades are critically needed because the nation’s
highways and airways “are clogged with traffic.”

Officials with the California High Speed Rail Authority said
last month that they believe they are in the best position of all the
states to secure the biggest share of the $8 billion because of Prop.
1A’s victory and because they’ve already amassed about $100 million in
private investment funding which makes the Golden’s State’s project
“shovel ready.”

The
news is of particular importance to Californians who voted last
November to approve Prop. 1A, which authorized the sale of about $9.5
billion in state revenue bonds to begin the construction of a San
Francisco to Los Angeles phase of the project.

Rod Diridon Sr., executive director of California’s Mineta Transportation Institution also joined the president during the announcement.

“The announcement underscores the President’s high regard for high-speed rail and
its ability to create jobs and mobility for the United States,” said
Diridon, a former chairman and current board member on the High Speed
Rail authority.

White
House officials said funding will move into the rail system through
three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved and only in
need of funding, thus providing jobs in the short term. The second and
third would focus on high-speed rail planning and then a commitment to
help in the execution of those plans far into the future when the
stimulus funds are no longer available.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer. His blog can be viewed at www.bapolitix.org