Governor Brown wants a high speed bullet train connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. The $68 billion project would be the first in the nation and would allow the train to travel at speeds greater than 200 miles an hour.
When he became governor in 2010, voters had already approved a bond measure two years previous that amassed close to $9 billion. In 2010, The Obama administration granted $3.3 billion in stimulus funds toward the project. Planning delays, court challenges, and the increasing costs have delayed the project.
In December 2013, Sacramento Superior Court Michael Kenny blocked the bond measure. The judge ruled the funding plan violated the law when state officials failed to follow the correct procedures. Judge Kenny ordered a new plan be drafted for the $68 billion project.
Governor Jerry Brown now has proposed the use of one third of the annual funds raised through cap and trade. The program requires California businesses emitting carbon dioxide greater than 25,000 metric tons to purchase credits for their excess pollution. California has raised more than $663 million since 2006.
Those funds reside in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and are meant for projects that reduce the state’s pollution. According to the California Legislative Analyst Office, by 2020, carbon credits could raise anywhere from $12 billion to $45 billion.
Governor Brown has the support of State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for legislation supporting a high speed bullet train between San Francisco to Los Angeles. If the Democrat dominated legislature supports the proposal, the state could use the funds to continue the construction.
The High-Speed Rail Authority has outlined other revenue avenues besides cap and trade funds. At the federal level, loans from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program or the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act could be utilized. On the state level, taxable bonds already raised, equity investments, and bank loans could be implemented into a corrected plan. Funds garnered from cap and trade would give the state the necessary funding security to pay off future loans.
Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, believes funds derived from cap and trade would prove beneficial. A steady stream of revenue would allow construction to continue.
Louis Thompson, an independent overseer with the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, has told the state the legislature that the estimated two hour 40 minute travel time from San Francisco and Los Angeles would be a half hour longer.
Critics have seized upon that detail as a reason for not supporting the high speed train. Farmers in the Central Valley do not want their land taken by eminent domain and have sued the state. There is also the question if a high speed bullet train could emit less carbon dioxide. Later in the summer a lower court case will arguments on a separate case to stop the construction.
Governor Brown’s administration appealed the decision of Sacramento Superior Court Michael Kenny to the state’s Third District Court of Appeal. Oral arguments will soon be scheduled.
For now, the project can continue with the funds issued by President Obama’s stimulus package. That means a 30 mile stretch of track will be laid in the Central Valley allowing Governor Brown’s quest for a high speed bullet train in California to have a beginning.
By Brian T. Yates