This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

November 12, 2008

California Voters Approve Funding for High-Speed Rail System

Artist's conception of a sleek train with an extended, rounded snout pulling into a station.

California voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail project that will connect many of the state's major cities.
Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority and NC3D

California voters have narrowly approved a proposition to sell nearly $10 billion in bonds to finance the construction of a high-speed rail system. The rail line will run from San Diego, through Los Angeles, and up to San Francisco, with a branch running from Fresno to Sacramento. The rail system would hit many urban centers along the way, providing a fast and inexpensive way to travel the state. According to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the 432-mile trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles will take only 2 hours and 38 minutes and will cost less than taking the trip by car. The electric-powered bullet trains will run at speeds as high as 220 miles per hour and will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The bonds will provide $9 billion for building the high-speed rail system, plus another $950 million to upgrade other passenger rail systems in the state. However, the rail authority estimated the total cost of the system at $45 billion back in 2006, and the measure requires the authority to seek private and other public funds to cover the remaining costs, a prospect that might prove difficult in the current economic climate. Despite the costs concerns, the measure drew approval from 52.3% of the state's voters, winning the greatest approval margins from counties that would directly benefit from the rail system. See the California Secretary of State's official summary of the proposition and the voting results, as well as the California High-Speed Rail Authority Web site.

High-profile transit measures also passed in Washington State and Hawaii. Three counties near Puget Sound approved Proposition 1, submitted by Sound Transit to add regional express bus and commuter rail service while building 36 additional miles of light rail in the Seattle area. The proposition passed with nearly 57% of the vote, adding a sales and use tax of 0.5% to provide the local share of an estimated $17.9 billion "Sound Transit 2" project, which is slated for completion in 2023. Voters in Honolulu, Hawaii, also expressed their support for an ongoing project, a $3.7 billion, 20-mile elevated commuter rail line. Construction starts next year on the project, which is slated for completion in 2018. See a summary of Proposition 1 from King County, Washington, the election results from the Washington Secretary of State, the Sound Transit 2 Web site, the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project Web site, and the Honolulu election results (PDF 51 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

The Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE) has tallied 32 transportation measures across the United States, of which more than 70% gained approval, providing more than $75 billion for transportation improvements. Of course, much of the funding will go towards road and highway projects, but included in the approved measures are a new transit agency for Jonesboro, Arkansas; improved and expanded transit systems in a number of California cities and counties, including Los Angeles; bus rapid transit in Aspen, Colorado; mass transit in Rhode Island; expanded bus service in Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, Utah; and expanded transit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Measures would also provide funding to continue public transit services in Lawrence, Kansas; Lansing, Michigan; Spring Lake, Michigan; Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and surrounding counties; and Mahoning County, Ohio. See the CFTE list of ballot measures.