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