California High-Speed Rail received a $4.2-billion boost from the new state budget that will help complete the Central Valley portion of the project currently under construction. The $308-billion California 2022-23 budget approved this week included the release of the final portion of funds from a the $9.9-billion bond measure approved by voters in 2008.
The money for the California high-speed rail project aims to move the state toward completion of the 171-mile section of electrified rail between Merced and Bakersfield in the Central Valley. The high-speed rail funds are part of an $8 billion in commitment to public transit statewide that is included in the new budget launching on July 1.
"These investments reflect California's highest transportation priorities and will accelerate our transition to a cleaner, safer, more connected and more equitable transportation system," Toks Omishakin, California State Transportation Agency's secretary, says in a statement.
The larger plan for high-speed rail aims to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, with additional portions tying together Sacramento and San Diego. The original $45-billion budget projection for Phase 1—the 380-mile Los Angeles to San Francisco section—has since jumped to $113 billion, not accounting for the Phase 2 connections to both Sacramento and San Diego.
The latest funding is planned to finish the final 52 miles of the Central Valley section, which currently has 119 miles under construction across 35 active job sites following a 2015 groundbreaking.
"California's political leaders listened to voters and stepped up for the future of high-speed rail," Ray LaHood, former U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary and co-chair of the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition, says in a statement. "I am gratified the funding for this critical legacy project will be expanded."
Opponents of the project caution that there's no guarantee the additional $4.2 billion will be enough to finish the Central Valley section. Additionally, they argue that having a Bakersfield to Merced section of rail offers a low value if not connected with Los Angeles and San Francisco. These concerns had the high-speed rail project in a waiting game at the state's political center in Sacramento for over a year as cost projections continue to increase.
Still, the state is moving forward on plans for the entire project, even with uncertain future funding. Already in June, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released the final environmental impact statement for the 43-mile San Francisco to San Jose project section in North California. If approved by the authority's board in August, it completes the full environmental clearance for high-speed rail in Northern California.
"We're making true progress on nearing full environmental clearance for the entire Phase 1 high-speed rail project," Brian Kelly, authority CEO, says in a statement. "With 380 miles from the Bay Area to northern Los Angeles County already complete, [this] release brings us into San Francisco and nearly 423 miles to be environmentally cleared."