Council Getting Busy on High Speed Rail

The Bay Area Council has been busy these past two weeks firming up support for high speed rail, as a deadline looms for the release of a much-anticipated business plan and legislators in D.C. played politics with transportation funding.

On the D.C. front, funding for high speed rail got caught up in partisan budget wrangling, with the House of Representatives this past week eliminating $8 billion of funding that President Obama had requested for the 2012 fiscal year. After a similar move in the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein helped accomplish a modest reversal, winning approval for a placeholder $100 million appropriation. High speed rail will be among the topics the Council discusses with Feinstein during our upcoming trip to the Capital. Despite the shuffling in D.C. over the 2012 budget, California’s $3.3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other earlier appropriations remains secure, and funding for the initial construction project in the Central Valley is not in jeopardy.

Closer to home, Obama’s top two transportation officials, during visits to the Bay Area this week, reiterated in meetings with the Council the President’s strong commitment to high speed rail. Council CEO Jim Wunderman spoke privately with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was in town last week for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, and made it clear to Wunderman that securing funding for high speed rail continues to be among the President’s top priorities.

And, at a meeting hosted this week by the Bay Area Council at the request of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari said that despite hitting a “few bumps in the road” high speed rail has a “strong future.” Porcari was here to outline the President’s American Jobs Act, but much of the discussion among about 20 elected, community and business leaders at the Council’s offices focused on transportation funding and high speed rail. Porcari noted that the nation’s interstate highway system when it was first proposed also attracted noisy naysayers, who later changed their tune once they realized the importance of the network to economic growth.

High speed rail makes particular sense for California, Porcari said, where it can provide an alternative to in-state air travel and preserve limited airport capacity for transcontinental and intercontinental travel and cargo. High speed rail will figure prominently during our D.C. trip from Oct. 4-6, with meetings being scheduled with both LaHood and Porcari. To participate in this trip, contact Council Senior Advisor George Broder at

Also on the home front, the Council has met in recent weeks with Governor Brown’s new appointees to the High Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richards and Senior Jobs Advisor Michael Rossi, about the upcoming release of the business plan, building support statewide and securing federal funding.

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