The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has provided a further infusion of financial help for a $12-billion high-speed passenger rail line from Las Vegas to southern California. DOT on Jan. 23 announced it is allocating $2.5 billion in private-activity bonds for the 218-mile Brightline West project.

The rail line would run mainly along the Interstate-15 median. Its Western terminus would be Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. DOT and Brightline say the trains could reach 186 mph, reducing travel time to two hours, which is about half the time it takes to drive. Plans call for the train to be powered by electricity and produce zero carbon emissions.

“We appreciate the confidence placed in us by DOT and are ready to get to work,” Wes Edens, Brightline founder and chairman, said in a statement.

Brightline says it expects to break ground "in early 2024" and adds that project construction is expected to take about four years. Field investigation work in the project corridor—the I-15 right of way—is underway, Brightline said on Jan. 16.

The new DOT aid follows the department's $1-billion allotment of private activity bonds in 2020 and its $3-billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act grant to the Nevada DOT in December.

Map courtesy Nevada Department of Transportation

The IIJA doubled DOT's private activity bond capacity to $30 billion from $15 billion. The bonds give privately financed transportation projects access to tax-exempt bonds. That reduces the borrower's interest rate for the bonds and, DOT says, increases the private sector's presence in financing infrastructure projects.

According to DOT's Build America Bureau, of the $30 billion Congress authorized for private activity bonds, the bureau has issued $16.96. It has approved, but not yet issued an additional $7.85 billion, including the $2.5 billion just announced for the Brightline project. That leaves $5.19 billion in available capacity.

Last June, DOT also awarded a $25-million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant to the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority to help finance Brightline West stations planned for Hesperia and Victor Valley, Calif.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement that the new financial assistance represents "the next step to fulfill the promise of high-speed rail in the American West."

Story updated on 1/25/2024 with data on U.S. DOT's private activity bond totals.