Senate passes high-speed rail funding, which now goes to governor

Highway and Road TransportationPoliticsChris MegerianNancy PelosiDarrell Steinberg

The state Senate voted to fund California's ambitious high-speed rail project on Friday, handing a major victory to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Obama administration.

The $8-billion legislation will fund the project's first stretch, covering 130 miles from Madera to Bakersfield.

The project had become increasingly controversial as Democratic senators from around San Francisco and Los Angeles asked why construction was was set to start with a 130-mile stretch in the Central Valley.

"The ridership is not in the Central Valley," said Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), speaking Thursday night. "The ridership is along the 101 corridor," referring to the U.S. highway stretching from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

The funding bill included $5.9 billion in state bond money and federal funds for the rail network. There was also about $2 billion for local and other related transportation projects, such as electrification of Cal Train tracks in the Bay Area and improvement of Los Angeles County's Metrolink system.

After the Assembly approved funding on Thursday, the pressure was on Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to round up support in his chamber.

“Our predecessors faced this same challenge before building California’s freeway networks and the Bay Area’s bridges," he said in a statement before the vote. "Today, we have an historic opportunity to follow in their footsteps and do the same.”

Brown and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) were also leaning on senators to vote for the funding.

The bill now goes to the governor.

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-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento, Los Angeles Times

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