The Senate Transportation Committee today approved AB 3034 by an 8-4 vote. But as our friend Erik Nelson reports it included some great amendments, including Sen. Leland Yee's plan to restore the primacy of LA-SF:
The committee, at the urging of Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, restored language that restricted use of the $9.95 billion in bond proceeds to the "spine" of the 800-mile system, which is now slated to run from Anaheim to Los Angeles to San Jose and San Francisco through the Antelope and San Joaquin valleys.
Cathleen Galgiani was not aware of that change before entering the hearing room, which may cause some problems in reconciling the bills between the Senate and the Assembly. But the Senate's version is superior. LA-SF is necessary to be the spine of the project and the notion of building it in pieces was always a poor approach to the project's politics and efficiency. The original plan was sound: LA-SF first, then the extensions to SD and Sacto as a guaranteed Phase II. Rome wasn't built in a day, neither will HSR.
Nelson also reports that a rule change giving project design work to Caltrans is causing controversy:
One change that caused Republicans to bristle along with representatives of private contractors was one that says the High-Speed Rail Authority "shall utilize" the engineering and project design services of Caltrans, the state's transportation department.
Republicans, of course, are bent on privatizing all aspects of state government, even the good ones, regardless of whether it's actually cost-effective to do so - see a earlier post of mine on Calitics about the matter. Caltrans' record is excellent (the issues with the east span of the Bay Bridge were due to external political meddling), but there are apparently Constitutional questions surrounding this aspect of the amended bill, and the committee has not committed itself to that language.
Other aspects of the Senate Transportation Committee's amended AB 3034:
Among the bill's 33 provisions are limiting bond money from paying more than half of any track or station construction cost so that federal, private or local funds would have to pay for the remainder, and allowing only 10 percent of that money for planning and engineering costs.
The bill also would establish an eight-member independent review committee appointed by state financial and legislative leaders.
Both changes should help address the concerns with financial risk of the system, although the HSR deniers will surely not be appeased. The committee also directed the CHSRA to come up with a revised business plan by October.
Republicans opposed the proposal, unsurprisingly. Although some Republicans like Curt Pringle strongly support HSR others remain opposed to any action that will help the state address its energy and environmental crisis. Senate Republicans want to shackle the state to oil and cars and eliminate alternative transportation. Thankfully Senate Democrats have come around and understood the value of high speed rail and provided some necessary fixes to AB 3034.
We will now work to ensure the bill passes the Senate and that these changes are accepted by the Assembly, so that we can move forward with the Yes on Prop 1 campaign for November. High speed rail's time has come, and the California legislature is showing some welcome if overdue leadership on this.