The California Senate on Friday narrowly voted 21 to 16 to approve an $8 billion budget measure to begin construction on a massive high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The move is a political victory for Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and the Obama Administration, both major backers of the project, which would be the largest such new infrastructure construction in the nation in years.
The final vote was mostly along party lines, with four Democrats joining 12 Republicans in opposing the measure (three GOP members didn’t cast votes). Still, the majority carried the measure forward after the state Assembly voted on Thursday to give the plan the go-ahead.
“The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again,” said Governor Brown, in a statement.
“In 2008, California voters decided to create jobs and modernize our state’s rail transportation system with a major investment in high-speed rail and key local projects in Northern and Southern California,” Brown added, referencing the original 2008 ballot measure that voters barely approved at 52.7 percent.
Under that ballot measure, the project’s estimated costs were $45 billion, but in the intervening years the estimate ballooned to nearly $100 billion before the the California High Speed Rail Authority, the state agency in charge of the project, issued a revised plan that pegged the cost at $68 billion, of which 61 percent is supposed to come from the federal government.
Critics in the legislature pointed to the uncertainty surrounding the availability of the funds later down the road, when the project is partially complete, and the need to improve existing rail infrastructure throughout the state, which the plan would also do, to some extent.
“This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness,” said Dan Richard, chairman of California High Speed Rail Authority, praising Governor Brown’s steadfast support of the project.
Brown is expected to sign the measure promptly, although it is still uncertain when the first 130-mile section of the total 520-mile high-speed rail line’s construction can actually commence, as it still faces a series of local and state regulatory approvals, as the Los Angeles Times points out.
Still, with the major state-level political opposition decidedly defeated, it appears that project is well on its way.