High Speed Rail Authority OK's scaled back plan

This image provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority shows an artist's conception of a high-speed rail car in California. Officials on Thursday Dec. 2, 2010 approved a $4.3 billion proposal to build California's first segment of high-speed rail line that would run through the state's agricultural heart. (AP Photo/California High-Speed Rail Authority)
April 12, 2012 9:53:47 PM PDT
California's High Speed Rail Authority gave the go-ahead to a substantially scaled back plan Thursday in hopes of keeping the project moving forward. The route is essentially the same, but the revisions will shave $30 billion off the cost by upgrading local lines.

At Thursday morning's High Speed Rail Authority meeting, San Francisco's mayor was the first to get on board.

"The Caltrain electrification has had a broad regional support for many years," Ed Lee said.

The attraction for the region is under the so-called "blended" plan -- high speed rail money could be used right away to electrify Caltrains, which would then join a high speed rail line from San Jose to Los Angeles and shave $30 billion off the $98 billion price tag.

In nearly two hours of public comment members of the building trades took their turns praising the system while critics called it a boondoggle.

Ted Crocker of Burlingame is worried about what a four track train system would do to the heart of his hometown.

"I don't want to ruin that, I don't want to lose that; for some cities that's fine, but not for Burlingame," Crocker said.

But board members said concerns over the environmental impact of the high speed rail will be taken up at another hearing and unanimously approved the business plan.

Rail Authority Vice Chair Lynn Schenk is a former congresswoman from San Diego who wrote the first high speed rail funding bill back in 1996, more than a decade before California voters approved the line.

"We have an obligation the legislature the governor and this board to invest for future generations as those who came before us invested for us," Schenk said.

The chair of the board added a reminder from the 60s.

"We came within one vote of one supervisor in three counties of not having BART," Dan Richard said.

Richard, who spent 12 years on the BART board, said complaints about BART's impact nearly derailed that system that has transformed the Bay Area. Richard believes high speed rail will have a similar impact

"And people will look back I hope and say thank god they did it because I would hate to have people look back and say I wish they had done it," Richard said.

Thursday's vote sends the business plan to the legislature and it will be up to lawmakers in Sacramento to decide whether they're going to release the bonds that voters approved back in 2008.


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