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Biden to restore $ 1 billion for high-speed train in California

A $ 929 million federal grant for the high-speed train project in California was reinstated Thursday, overturning a decision by the Trump administration to end funding.

The grant was reinstated as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by California, claiming the U.S. Department of Transportation acted inappropriately by withdrawing the money in May 2019.

The action was widely expected in recent weeks after statements by President Biden’s administration that it was working on a settlement. The Federal Railroad Administration officially announced the regulations on Friday morning.

In a written statement, the agency said the settlement “reflects the federal government’s ongoing partnership in high-speed rail development” and “is an important step in advancing an economic transformation project in California. “.

The action appears to indicate that the Biden administration will support efforts by the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority to secure part of the federal infrastructure package being negotiated, although the actual amount of the rail project is highly uncertain.

“Tonight’s action by the federal government is further proof that California and the Biden-Harris administration share a common vision – clean, electrified transportation that will serve generations to come,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. communicated.

Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly called it “a milestone in advancing an economic transformation project.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) also weighed in, saying the restoration of the grant was a “vote of confidence” that signals a restored working relationship between the federal government and California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is under pressure to allocate a significant amount of unexpected tax revenue to the bullet train project to signal federal officials that the state is fully engaged, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

If that happened, it would be the first time the state has allocated a large chunk of general fund income to the effort. The allocation could be part of a package with the infrastructure investments offered by Biden.

At the same time, Newsom is pressuring the legislature to appropriate all the remaining $ 4.2 billion of a 2008 bond issue for the project. But many lawmakers want to withhold some of the money in a bid to impose tighter controls on the project’s performance.

Some high-speed rail advocates believe $ 10 billion or more from state and federal government could be added to the project, allowing for an expansion of current construction. But even that much money wouldn’t fill an estimated $ 80 billion shortfall needed to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Earlier this week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a 7-hour marathon infrastructure hearing, which included an in-depth discussion of the California project.

The restoration of $ 929 million does not reflect a real boon to the program, as the state rail authority has never taken money out of its budget from planned revenue.

The grant was originally awarded in 2010 after other states withdrew from high-speed rail projects and refused to receive federal support. The California project had previously won another $ 2.5 billion grant from the Obama administration’s stimulus package, known as the American Recover and Reinvestment Act.

Trump’s action to recover the money was highly controversial, and federal grant experts said such terminations were rare in cases that did not involve fraud but were simply overdue.

Ronald Batory, then head of the Federal Railroad Administration, cited California’s multiple failures to schedule specific times, among other problems, when taking measurements. Along with Republicans in the California House, Trump officials have sharply criticized the California project, with former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calling it a “bait and switch” on promises made to taxpayers.

Chao and Trump had launched an even greater threat, to recoup the much larger $ 2.5 billion grant that had already been spent. Despite such rhetoric, the Trump administration has never attempted to recover the funds.

The $ 929 million is part of a planned $ 22.8 billion effort to build a partial 171-mile operating system between Bakersfield and Merced, as well as complete environmental planning and rail investments. at high speed in Southern California and the Bay Area.

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