FRESNO — Amid the debris and grit of a downtown Fresno site, Gov. Brown formally launched construction of California’s $68 billion bullet train, a project that — maybe — will link San Francisco with Los Angeles through the state’s farm belt within two decades.
Brown, who the day before was sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor, said planning for high-speed rail has been going on for more than 30 years, but only now is the historic construction beginning. Brown, who was born in 1938, said he would be in his 90s when the finished system, the nation’s largest public works project, is a reality. The clock is ticking, he said.
Polls show that most Californians like high-speed rail. But the politics in Washington reflect the Republicans’ distaste.
“I’m going to try and cut a few corners here and get it going,” Brown told a gathering of about 250 people that included political figures, members of his administration and an array of transportation officials. Brown’s remarks capped an event that was carefully scripted, tightly scheduled and, with a few exceptions, notable for its bombast and hyperbole.
The governor was interrupted several times by applause, but not everyone was so appreciative. Outside the perimeter, a handful of protesters shouted, “Stop the train!” and, twice, “You suck!” as they tried to be heard above the event’s robust sound system. Several protesters said they represented farm and water interests.
“It’s too much debt. We just can’t afford this,” said Kevin Dayton of Monterey.
California voters have approved some $9 billion for high-speed rail, and federal matching money has flowed in as well. The governor last year diverted budget money from California’s cap-and-trade auction program. In addition, private investment groups have approached the state about participating in the project, lured by Brown’s decision to tap the auction funds.
Polls show that most Californians like high-speed rail. But the politics in Washington reflect the Republicans’ distaste. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is the foremost critic of the bullet train, called the project “deeply flawed,” and vowed that “Congress will continue to ensure no more Federal taxpayer dollars are directed to this project.”
Some property owners and local governments along the route, including the city of Bakersfield, which is in the heart of McCarthy’s district, have gone to court to block the bullet train.
But state officials said the court fights largely have been won.
“They are all behind us,” said Dan Richard, chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, the state entity in charge of the project. “Now, we build.”