California submits application for billions in rail construction projects

Posted: 4 April 2011 | | No comments yet

The State of California has submitted its application for the federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program…

The State of California submitted its application today for the federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program for billions in rail construction projects, including a request for funding to complete construction of the “backbone” of the planned statewide high-speed rail system.

The federal government recently announced that states can apply for Florida’s returned $2.43 billion in high-speed and intercity passenger rail funding. This funding includes $1.63 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding and $800 million in Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Transportation funding. Applications were due today.

“California’s application seeks funding for projects that will be the building blocks for a statewide network of rail lines linking high-speed and intercity rail lines to regional rail lines,” wrote California Governor Edmund G. Brown in a letter introducing the state’s application. “The projects will provide the foundation for a transportation system that will improve mobility, help the environment, reduce energy dependency, and put Californians to work.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted its application for the entirety of the re-allocated funds, including a primary ask for funds to extend initial construction of its statewide system into downtown Merced and to downtown Bakersfield, including both stations and the complicated area of track known as the “Wye”, requesting $1.44 billion and offering a 20 percent state match from the Proposition 1A (2008) funding. This application seeks final design and construction funds for civil infrastructure, including track work, and two stations.

This funding would give the Authority the potential to lay the track that will connect Merced to Bakersfield – the critical “backbone” of the statewide system where high-speed trains will travel at 220 miles per hour and ensure that California’s system is competitive with other modes of travel. These north and south extensions to the initial construction segment are estimated to cost $1.8 billion.

“By approving nearly $10 billion toward the construction of California’s high-speed rail project in 2008, California voters made California the only state moving forward to fulfill President Obama’s promise of trains traveling over 200 miles per hour to connect significant portions of our population,” continued Governor Brown. “California shares the Obama administration’s belief that rail must play a greater role in addressing the transportation and environmental challenges facing our nation, and we look forward to continuing to work together in turning our vision for expanded intercity and high-speed rail into reality.”

Signaling the logical next steps to significantly expand construction of the state’s high-speed rail system the Authority submitted additional applications that would build upon the primary request for funding. In addition to completing the backbone of Merced to Bakersfield, the secondary applications could also allow the Authority to build additional track either north or to the south – north 39 additional miles toward the Bay Area or south, past Bakersfield, up to the Tehachapi Mountains.

The application to further high-speed rail construction north from downtown Merced toward the Bay Area seeks $960 million in federal funding for civil infrastructure including track work. This extension is estimated to cost $1.2 billion, part of which would be funded through a 20 percent state match.

The application to further high-speed rail construction south from downtown Bakersfield to the Tehachapi Mountains sees $1.3 billion for civil infrastructure including track work. This stretch is estimated to cost $1.67 billion, part of which would be funded through a 20 percent state match.

The California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, also submitted its applications for the federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program including state and local match funds. Caltrans’ federal request for $382 million includes more than 12 rail improvement projects for its Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor passenger rail lines funded and managed by the state and operated by ­­­Amtrak.

The projects requested by Caltrans are not currently funded but have been environmentally cleared and, if federal funds are awarded, could begin construction within one year.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, on behalf of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also submitted an application for a grade separation project in the City of Los Angeles that would ultimately benefit the high-speed rail system. The application seeks $70 million and proposes a local match from Measure R. The grade separation project is located at the intersection of Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Road within the Palmdale to Los Angeles high-speed rail section.

California’s planned high-speed rail system continues to undergo environmental review, and nothing in the Authority’s application for federal funds prejudges that review. The final track alignment through the Central Valley is dependent on the environmental review process, and therefore the ultimate number of track miles possible from any additional funds to California depends on that environmental determination. The draft environmental impact reports for the Central Valley segments between Merced and Bakersfield are scheduled to be completed in June/July and is scheduled to go before the Authority’s Board of Directors in late 2011 / early 2012 for a decision on the final alignment.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is developing an 800-mile high-speed train system that will operate at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, connecting the state’s major urban centers, including the Bay Area, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego. The first phase of the project, San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim, is projected to cost $43 billion. Initial infrastructure construction will begin in the Central Valley, the backbone of the system, in 2012. The project is being funded through a voter-approved state bond, federal funding awards and public-private partnerships.