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California bullet train backers want funds that Florida shunned

Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds for a proposed high-speed line between Orlando and Tampa. Brown, Feinstein and Boxer say California would welcome the additional money.

February 17, 2011|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times

California bullet train supporters began angling Wednesday for a sizeable share of $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funding that Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected.

Scott, a Republican, told reporters he didn't believe projections for a proposed high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa and feared Florida taxpayers would end up having to subsidize the service.

The Obama administration, which has made high-speed rail development a signature initiative, said after Scott's announcement that it will consider redistributing the stimulus funds to states that are proceeding with new, high-tech rail systems.

After the November elections, new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin turned down federal high-speed rail money. About half of that funding — $616 million — was reallocated to California for a proposed rail line that would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains running up to 220 mph. California officials now hope to get a large part of the money originally intended for Florida.

"The $2 billion that Florida rejected are more than welcome here," California Gov. Jerry Brown said.

California. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking that all the Florida money be sent here. "It is now clear that California will lead the way in demonstrating the viability of high-speed rail to the rest of the country," they wrote.

Critics argue California's proposed rail line also is likely to fall short of ridership forecasts and be costly to operate. But state voters endorsed the plan in 2008, as well as $9 billion in funding.

The state is "in a great position to be … competitive for federal dollars," said Jeffrey Barker, deputy executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. California has the nation's only truly high-speed train project in advanced stages of planning, he added.

Work on a $5.5.-billion, 120-mile section of Central Valley track is expected to begin next year. If new funds are received, the segment could be extended west toward San Jose or south toward Palmdale.

Close to $15 billion in future federal allocations still will be needed to complete the entire line, officials say. But GOP leaders who control the House of Representatives have attacked Obama's plan to spend $53 billion on high-speed rail over the next six years.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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