US Senator Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, got a glimpse of the construction progress of the high-speed train project in California on Friday, accompanying Representative Jim Costa on a tour of the new viaduct that spans the San Joaquin River at the Fresno-Madera County line.
Padilla, who was nominated to take the seat of the California Senate left when Kamala Harris became Vice President to President Joe Biden, said he has been a supporter of bullet train since he served in the California State Senate in 2006. He said that he was hoping for changes to get a major infusion of federal funds for the ball-shaping effort through several transportation and infrastructure packages being negotiated between Congress and the Biden administration.
In the shadow of the 4,700-foot-long elevated structure just east of Highway 99 and the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks, the chairman of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Tom Richards, a developer from Fresno, told Padilla and Costa that federal help is badly needed. for the project which faces a severe shortage of money for ongoing construction beyond the ongoing work on the road in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.
“We are now at a point where we are seeking considerable support from the state of California and the (federal) government,” said Richards. “It’s a political challenge, and everyone is used to it. What we do know is we have to win because it’s for the state of California.
For 13 years – since California voters approved the $ 9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure 1A proposal in 2008 – the high-speed rail effort has been political football. The bickering escalated after the Obama administration awarded an estimated $ 3.6 billion in federal railway stimulus and improvement grants to the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 2010 and 2011 for construction in the central valley of San Joaquin.
The Valley segment between Merced and Bakersfield is touted as a “backbone” for a statewide line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains running at up to 220 mph.
The project has been plagued by delays and cost increases since construction began in 2014. In 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration, under the Trump administration, canceled a grant of nearly $ 1 billion. for the project. That decision was overturned earlier this year as a state lawsuit over the overturn was settled with the Biden administration.
Padilla acknowledged the cancellation of the grant cancellation, but added that “it will take a lot more to keep this project going.
“Many other countries in the world have a working high speed train,” the senator said. With a growing population and increasing traffic jams in California and across the country, “we cannot see a future for California and the country without high speed rail. It is a given.
“Once you accept that, you also know that the longer you wait, the more it will cost and the longer it will take,” Padilla added.
Costa, a Democrat from Fresno, thanked Padilla for becoming the first U.S. senator to visit a high-speed rail construction site in California. Costa added that he believes he, Padilla and other members of the state congressional delegation, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, “are going to be a great team to make sure we get the funding we need to get the high speed train going.”
Costa and Padilla recognized the political challenges of a poorly divided and partisan Congress. “Of course, all great things are difficult legally,” Costa said. He noted that three former presidents he worked with – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – “were unwilling to put money in to get the job done.”
Trying to jumpstart the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden “is ready to do it,” Costa added. “We have a window here that didn’t exist before, and we have a president who wants to make it happen.”
Padilla said that even in a Senate where there is a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, there is a two-party perspective on infrastructure and transportation spending.
As a member of Senate Budget Committee, Padilla also helped develop another $ 3.5 trillion infrastructure spending program unveiled this week, which includes money for the bullet train.
“We know the numbers are there; we know the will is there, ”he said. “We need to master the language, not just for transportation (but) for bullet train in particular, and to make sure California is at the table.”
“I feel great,” Padilla added.