Funding for the high-speed rail is still the big issue even though groundbreaking for the project occurred. California taxpayers are paying a share thanks to a bond passed six years ago and a decision by the legislature to funnel a portion of the cap-and-trade money to the rail project. But where’s the rest of the money coming from?
It wasn’t exactly the Golden Spike ceremony but the media event to herald the beginning of the high speed rail construction went off with some similarities to the event that joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory in 1869.
In Fresno yesterday, dignitaries signed the first section of rail for the project, led by California Governor Jerry Brown. In Utah nearly a century-and-a-half ago, former California Governor Leland Stanford drove in the rail line’s last spike that was engraved with the names of the railroad’s officers and directors.
Supporters of the bullet train compare their building effort to that of the transcontinental railroad. But while the transcontinental project was spurred by offering free land to private railroad companies to get them involved, the rail authority is relying on businesses seeing an advantage to the train and stepping up to fund it. So far outsider (non-government) funding has not answered the call.
Governor Brown acknowledged the financial challenges ahead for the rail at the ceremony. He said, “I wasn’t quite sure where the hell we were going to get the rest of the money … but don’t worry about it. We’re going to get it.”
With no business investment and Congress unlikely to contribute more after an initial $3 billion grant, money for the $68 billion project (think more-isn’t it always that way with big projects?) is still a huge question.
Californians paying for gasoline are doing their share to pay for the train, whether they support it or not, and polls show support for the train is down. With the cap-and-trade law now applied to transportation fuel and 25-percent of cap-and-trade money dedicated to the train, motorists are already paying for the construction.
Reporter Timm Herdt did an analysis of the first week of cap-and-trade’s effect on gasoline prices in the state and concluded the law added about seven cents to a gallon of gas. See his report here.
As I wrote previously in Fox and Hounds in a post titled, Start to Build it and They will Come, it’s apparent that a strategy to build the train is to begin the project thus putting pressure on the legislature to see that it is funded to completion. The expectation from train advocates is that no one wants to see only a 29-mile track in the Central Valley once the first leg is completed and money runs out.
Uncertainty about the train’s funding not only surrounds private dollars, but the important cap-and-trade funding source could be in jeopardy depending on the outcome of a lawsuit the California Chamber of Commerce filed against the Air Resources Board. The suit declares the cap-and-trade money is actually a tax that required a two-thirds vote of the legislature. The lawsuit is currently in the Third District Court of Appeal and will probably be heard this spring.
The transcontinental railroad project broke ground in January of 1863. It was completed less than 6-and-a-half years later. The high-speed rail project has been the slow-speed rail project in comparison. Thirty-five years since it was conceived, six years since the state bond passed, and far from the necessary money in sight to complete the project.
Perhaps the groundbreaking ceremony got so much attention from those involved because in the end there may be no closing ceremony similar to Promontory Summit if the money is not there to finish the project.
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