California high-speed rail project could get $4.2 billion in new funding

By Jenny LescohierMay 18, 2021

California’s high-speed rail project will connnect Los Angeles with San Francisco

Construction of the first portion of a high-speed rail system in the Central Valley of California could receive $4.2 billion in new funding if the state’s governor gets his way.

According to media reports, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed spending an additional $11 billion on transportation improvements in the state, including $4.2 billion for a section of the system that will connect Merced and Bakersfield, and to advance planning and design for the entire project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority claims the high-speed rail project has created more than 5,500 “good-paying” jobs since construction in the Central Valley began, with more than 35 construction sites active along the bullet train system’s first 119 miles.

The project’s hiring numbers might be misleading, according to Fox Business, which said the latest available progress report on the project indicates the average construction workforce total for the month of February was only about 997 daily workers, about 18% of the advertised total of 5,500, down from a total of 1,174 daily workers in November.

Still, as of April 30, the high-speed rail has generated a total of more than 4.3 million hours of craft labor to date. The High-Speed Rail Authority noted that, as of the end of April, an average of 1,116 construction workers are working at project sites per week.

California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly defended the hiring numbers in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the first to report the count discrepancy, earlier this month, calling the count a “valid measure of progress.” 

Kelly added that he’s “happy we are at 1,000” daily workers and expects the amount of jobs created by the project to increase to somewhere between 1,700 to 2,000 over the next two years, reports said.

The proposed spending would “build a modernized transportation system for the next century,” Newsom said, in addition to fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

Fox Business reported the $11 billion in transportation spending includes:

  • $1 billion for “critical projects” that support the upcoming 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles
  • $1 billion for transit and rail projects statewide that improve rail and transit connectivity between state and regional/ local services
  • $500 million to increase the proportion of trips accomplished by walking and biking, increase the safety and mobility of non-motorized users and advance efforts of regional agencies to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals, enhance public health, and benefit many types of users
  • $500 million to support critical safety improvements throughout the state
  • $2 billion ($1.1 billion special funds through 2028, and $968 million federal funds) to support the advancement of priority State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) projects, Interregional Transportation Improvement Program (ITIP) projects, and local road and bridge investments

The state legislature has until June 15 to send Newsom a budget bill. The fiscal year begins July 1.

According to Fox, about $7.24 billion has been invested towards the project’s planning and construction since 2006, with $3.9 billion to $4.4 billion in total labor income created thus far. The project has generated $10.5 to $11.4 billion in total economic activity for the state.

The authority’s business plan calls for testing trains by 2026 and starting service between Merced and Bakersfield by 2029. It anticipates environmental approval for the 500 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2023, but completion of the full line depends on funding and other unknowns.

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