Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Deputy Chief Executive Officer Paul Taylor applauded the Legislature's approval Friday of funding for the first phase of a high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
"We think it's great," Taylor said. "Not only because high-speed rail moves forward, anchored in Southern California at Union Station, but also included in the budget language is funding for making improvements to our rail infrastructure south of Palmdale."
When fully completed, the rail line will have a station in Burbank and Sylmar and pass just outside the northern border of North Hollywood. Construction on new tracks and platforms in Los Angeles could begin by the end of the year, Taylor said.
The bill includes close to $110 million for the downtown regional connector, an underground light rail that will enable riders to get around Los Angeles County without having to transfer to different trains, Taylor said.
The state Senate Friday afternoon voted 21-16 to authorize about $8 billion in spending on the project, starting with construction in the Central Valley. All the yes votes were cast by Democrats.
The Assembly voted Thursday 51-27 to approve the funding. The money includes $2.6 billion in rail bonds passed by California voters in 2008 and $3.2 billion in federal money for a 130-mile stretch of track from Madera to Bakersfield. The bill also included $2 billion in funding for projects in the Bay Area and L.A. County.
Supporters say the project will create thousands of construction jobs.
Critics argue the estimated $68 billion project has nearly doubled in cost and changed significantly from the plan voters approved in 2008. The original price tag was $40 billion. The High-Speed Rail Authority scaled the plan down to upgrade and use existing rail infrastructure around Los Angeles and San Francisco rather than build new track in the metro areas.
"Closing schools for three weeks, while spending $8 billion on 130 miles of train tracks defies logic and is irresponsible," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.
"I don't understand what priorities of the legislative Democrats. Clearly they are not the same as the rest of Californians."
The approval is a victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed hard for the project. Brown called the vote a "bold action" that will create jobs and "put California out in front once again."