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Letter to Speaker Rendon: Stop Blocking Bullet Train

3:01 PM PDT on May 5, 2022

HSR-opponent Anthony Rendon. Photo from his assembly district page

The voters approved California's High-speed Rail project in 2008. Recent polls show a majority of Californians want the work to continue. And yet, thanks primarily to Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assemblymember Laura Friedman, $4.2 billion in voter-approved funds to install tracks and overhead electrification and to buy trains to get the first stage of the system running have been in limbo for almost a year. As a result, contracts sit unsigned and costs are mounting.

A coalition of former transportation officials, advocates, lawmakers, labor leaders, and SPUR have written a letter to Rendon and his counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, urging them to release the funds.

From the letter, which was also signed by former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretaries Ray LaHood, Anthony Foxx and the late Norman Mineta, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, and California transit advocate Rod Diridon:

As the leading national coalition working to fund electrified high-speed rail projects, the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition urges the California State Legislature to approve the $4.2 billion voter-approved bond appropriation for the California High-Speed Rail project included in Governor Newsom’s Fiscal Year 2022/2023 Budget.

The ongoing spike in gas prices shows that California voters were wise to vote in favor of Prop 1A in 2008. High-speed rail is how we break free from oil – as well as the enormous burdens it places on consumers, communities and the climate.

Fourteen years later, the majority of California voters continue to support the high-speed rail project. According to a new Los Angeles Times - Berkeley poll, 56 percent of registered voters in California want to continue building the high-speed rail project, including 73 percent of registered Democrats and 54 percent of independents.

The letter goes on to point out that even in Rendon's own district a majority of voters support continued construction. "59 percent of L.A. County voters support continued construction of the project – including 32 percent who strongly favor continued construction – while only 29 percent oppose it."

As Streetsblog has covered for years now, a group of primarily L.A. Democrats in the state legislature are now the main impediment against completing California's bullet train. Amtrak Joe Biden's election and the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill means significantly more federal funding is coming. Construction is well under way throughout the Central Valley. The connection into San Francisco is nearly electrified. Designs for the connection from the Central Valley to San Jose are approved. Nearly all the segments for bringing it into Southern California are approved and ready to go.

But Rendon and Friedman have proposed various excuses for not fully funding the first segment. They've suggested using diesel powered trains instead of electrified, high-speed rail; they've said it would be better to use the high-speed funds for unspecified transit projects in their districts; they've pushed the (false) idea that onerous transfers would be necessary, and that delaying the funds would have no effect on the project. Rendon denies that contributions from the petroleum industry to "moderate" Democrats, including himself, have any influence over policy decisions.

"America's effort to decarbonize transportation depends on the completion of the California High-Speed Rail project," wrote the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition in a statement about the letter. "Once the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line is up and running, it will slash emissions by an average of 2 million metric tons annually – equivalent to saving 225 million gallons of gas and taking 432,000 cars off the road every single year. To achieve sustainability, we need high-speed rail. There is no cheaper or better alternative to addressing the state's transportation and oil dependency challenges."

For more about Speaker Anthony Rendon, be sure to read "Since California speaker rose to power, corporate donations flowed to nonprofits tied to his wife," a great piece from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

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