California’s bullet train project surged out of the station on Friday when the state Senate voted 21-16 vote in favor of bonds to begin construction.

An artist's rendition of the bullet train planned to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. (California High Speed Rail Authority)

The bill passed in the Assembly Thursday by a vote of 51-27 and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has energetically supported it.

It will release $2.6 billion in voter-approved bonds for the proposed bullet train, and allocate another $1.9 billion for regional rail improvements in Northern and Southern California.

It will allow the state to receive $3.2 billion in federal funds to begin constructing the first rail segment in the Central Valley.

Supporters argued that high-speed rail will become increasingly necessary as the state’s growing population clogs highways and airports, that the construction project will bring jobs to the state and that the federal funding will disappear if the state doesn’t take advantage of them now.

“It’s rare that we get the opportunity to make a vote for a project that will last not only for our children, but for their children,” said Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield.

Opponents countered that project is too expensive. “We cannot afford this,” said Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin. “We have a crisis in nearly every other area of the state.”

He said the rail system will probably cost more than the $100 billion he said was currently estimated, and the state will owe at least $7 billion a year in interest and principle over 30 years.

A recent opinion poll suggested that the project could diminish voters’ enthusiasm for a November ballot initiative to raise taxes. The state has cut spending on education and healthcare recently, and will cut further if the tax measure fails.

The debate got lively coverage on Twitter:

Calif. Senate Passes High-Speed Rail, Bill Goes to Governor 6 July,2012Laird Harrison

  • This was a great day forward for California’s transportation system. Upset that my Democratic Senator voted against this project, but glad that it passed.

    • Bro_cl

      What is the business proposition for the railway project? You can fly to/from Socal/norcal for as little as $70. How many passengers will the railway take and for what price?  How will this compare with Jetblue, Southwest, Virgin America, American Airlines, etc….Personally, I love to ride trains, but I have not seen a strong business case/plan for this expensive undertaking. I’ve only heard that there is “$3.2B of Federal dollars on the table”.  I think that your Democratic Senator was one of the smartest people in the room for having the guts to stand-up to his/her party, ask the tough questions and vote no.  The expense cannot be justified in the current state of the california budget.  Heck the state cannot even meet it’s current commitments to it’s employee pensions. When will the “adults” step into the room?  I do not understand how the Governor, the Assembly and the Union leadership can justify this “luxurious” expense.  It’s not a MUST have; it’s a nice to have.  California cannot afford nice to haves. 

  • Correction: the current cost estimate is $68 billion, not $100 billion.

    • Laird Harrison

      Thanks for making this point. The $100 billion estimate was from Ted Gaines. I have clarified that in the story.
      – Laird Harrison

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