SACRAMENTO — The state Transportation Commission on Wednesday agreed to allocate $43 million in bond funds to begin buying rights of way for a 350-mile rail transit network that would link Los Angeles to four neighboring counties.
The money will be used by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission in its $450-million acquisition of Southern Pacific Railway rights of way. The state commission's action is final, requiring no further governmental approval, and stipulates that trains must be running on the routes by the year 2000.
Although the initial allocation was much smaller than they had hoped for, transit officials said they consider the acquisitions a major breakthrough in their effort to build the $7.5-billion rail network that would link Los Angeles with Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
At a Wednesday morning meeting, the state commission first approved the county agency's request for $140.5 million. But that figure was reduced to $43 million at an afternoon session.
County attorney Bob Naylor said the commission scaled back the amount because it wanted to give other transit authorities applying for bond money an equal chance to acquire rail project funds.
The money comes from voter approval last June of Propositions 108 and 111, which established an $18.5-billion transportation improvement package along with a 9-cent increase in the state gasoline tax to help pay for it.
The county transportation commission "would have liked to have had the whole $140 million," Naylor said, "but we received assurances (from the commission) that the rest of the money will be forthcoming."
Naylor said a request for the remaining $97.5 million will be renewed at next month's commission meeting.
The deal with Southern Pacific represents the outright purchase of rights of way and operating rights on existing lines. The railroad put the properties up for sale and the county commission agreed to buy them, using local sales tax and state funds.
Negotiations are continuing with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. for more right of way and operating rights for a Pasadena light-rail line and commuter rail links into Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.