State Paying for Bullet Train Station

AUG. 27, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

A bill designed to formally authorize the proposed bullet train system expenditures is only now working through the legislature even though the project has been rolling ahead at full throttle. Though a glance at the California High-Speed Rail Authority website appears to show the federal government gave $2.25 billion to the bullet trains back in  February, technically, the fed has only committed stimulus funds to the project, but not yet provided the actual money.

And yet, a massive transit project that is taking many people by surprise, and did not appear to be fully vetted in Proposition 1A – the 2008 High Speed Rail Bond Act that set aside nearly $10 billion in bonds for the trains — is already taking shape in San Francisco. And now, after shovels have already begun to move dirt, we have SB 965.

This bill “creates a process for appropriation of federal funds and for the Authority to use these dollars to fully take advantage of the job creation potential of high-speed rail,” said  Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who authored the bill. “This bill also provides for needed oversight and accountability by requiring a report to the Legislature within 60 days of entering into a cooperative agreement with the Federal Railroad Association for the expenditure of the funds.  SB 965 is an important measure that strikes the proper balance between creation of vitally needed California jobs and the appropriate level of oversight of the Authority.”

But DeSaulnier’s bill also authorizes the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), a new agency, to design, build, operate and maintain a new Transbay Transit Center at the site of the current Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco. The bill also gives, through enactment of the federal stimulus act, $400 million to the TJPA directly.

According to bill analysis, the Transbay Transit Center is a terminal and a regional intermodal transfer facility that includes office towers and housing on a 42-acre site in downtown San Francisco.  The High-Speed Rail Bond Act stipulates that the terminal is the Northern California terminus for Phase I of the high-speed rail service.

The Transit Joint Powers Authority submitted an application for stimulus funding and was awarded $400 million, which the Federal Railroad Administration included in its $2.25 billion award to the High Speed Authority.  But in March of this year, the Federal Railroad Administration sent a letter clarifying that the Transit Joint Powers Authority, and not the High Speed Rail Authority, is the direct recipient of the $400 million allocation, indicating that there was perhaps a dispute over where exactly the federal funds were supposed to go. Accordingly, this bill makes the $400 million provided to TJPA exempt from the Authority’s reporting of its $1.85 billion in federal stimulus funds.

SB 965  also provides that the San Francisco transit bay authority “shall become operative only if A.B. 289 is also enacted.” AB 289, authored by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, specifies exemptions for certain high speed rail projects from the current California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

On Aug. 11, at the “Historic Groundbreaking of First New High-Speed Rail Station in United States,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Secretary Ray LaHood, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and “Other Dignitaries” showed up to break ground on the Transbay Transit Center.

“Today, in breaking ground on the Transbay Transit Center, we are opening a new chapter in that history of progress. We are coming together to create jobs and revitalize our economy, and we are laying the first building blocks of a new ‘Grand Central Station of the West,'” Pelosi said.

To which one capitol transportation insider commented, “$1.85 billion to create jobs and revitalize the economy, funded by the government, run by the government and controlled by the government.”

DeSaulnier’ bill passed out of the Assembly this week, on a 53-7 vote, and is now in the Senate.

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