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State approves funding for high-speed rail project

City News Service | 7/9/2012, 5 p.m.

An executive with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority applauded the state legislature's recent approval of funding for the first phase of a high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

The state Senate on July 6 voted 21-16 to authorize about $8 billion in spending on the project, starting with construction in the Central Valley. The Assembly voted 51-27 to approve the funding. The money includes $2.6 billion in rail bonds passed by California voters in 2008 and $3.2 billion in federal money for a 130-mile stretch of track from Madera to Bakersfield. The bill also included $2 billion in funding for projects in the Bay Area and L.A. County.

Supporters say the project will create thousands of construction jobs.

Critics argue the estimated $68 billion project has nearly doubled in cost and changed significantly from the plan voters approved in 2008. The original price tag was $40 billion. The High-Speed Rail Authority scaled the plan down to upgrade and use existing rail infrastructure around Los Angeles and San Francisco rather than build new track in the metro areas.

The approval is a victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed hard for the project. In a statement, Brown called the vote a "bold action" that will create jobs and "puts California out in front once again."

Metro Deputy CEO Paul Taylor applauded the vote and said L.A. County could see construction on new tracks and platforms begin by the end of the year. "We think it's great," Taylor said. "Not only because high-speed rail moves forward, anchored in Southern California at Union Station, but also included in the budget language is funding for making improvements to our rail infrastructure south of Palmdale."

Taylor said the bill also includes close to $110 million for the downtown regional connector, an underground light rail that will enable riders to get around L.A. County without having to transfer to different trains.