Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday to fund the first phase of a $68 billion, first-in-the nation high-speed rail line connecting the Southland with San Francisco.
The governor signed the bill before an audience of construction workers and state and local government officials gathered at Union Station downtown.
The law passed by the state Legislature on July 6 authorizes the state to spend about $8 billion on the first phase of the rail line, including hundreds of millions of dollars for transit projects in Southern California and an expansion of Los Angeles' Union Station.
The projects will be funded by $2.6 billion in rail bonds passed by California voters in 2008 and $3.2 billion in federal funds for a 130-mile stretch of track allowing trains to travel from Madera to Bakersfield at 220 miles per hour. The bill also includes about $2 billion in funding for projects in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County.
Brown told the audience the project was about creating jobs and building an infrastructure to accommodate millions of new residents expected in the state in coming decades.
"In the midst of this recession, we're putting thousands of people to work," Brown said.
He called critics of the plan "declinists ... who say California's best days are behind us. That's not true. We're building the future."
The law greenlighted the spending of $115 million for the downtown regional connector, an underground light rail that will enable riders to get around Los Angeles County without having to transfer to different trains. Another $350 million will be available to pay for a major expansion of Union Station to allow trains to travel in two directions from the station. Under the existing configuration, trains leave in the same direction they enter.
Supporters say the project will create thousands of construction jobs. But critics argue the estimated $68 billion project has nearly doubled in cost and changed significantly from the plan voters approved in 2008. The original price tag was $40 billion.
The High Speed Rail Authority scaled the plan down to upgrade and use existing rail infrastructure around Los Angeles and San Francisco rather than build new tracks in the metro areas.
"Closing schools for three weeks, while spending $8 billion on 130 miles of train tracks, defies logic and is irresponsible," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.
Local government officials say greater need is in fixing southern California's traffic problems, pointing to the Metro Gold Line extension project. Funding for the project's extension from the Azusa/Glendora border to Claremont is in a state of limbo.
“We are wasting $100 billion on a high speed rail that ends in the central Valley with no passengers,” argued Gold Line Construction Authority board member and Glendora City Councilman Doug Tessitor erlier this year. “And yet, we could use that money to solve Southern California’s transit needs. But that’s a dream and I won’t pretend to think our state and federal politicians could think that logically.”
High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard said construction would begin on track in the Central Valley in the next year.
"Five years from now, we will have completed the spine of the first high-speed rail system in the United States of America," Richard said. "Ten years from today, through this station, you'll be able to get on the high speed rail train and, by noon, (be) hiking up the trail of Yosemite to Half-Dome."
Brown was scheduled to hold a second signing ceremony in San Francisco this afternoon.