The sound of high-speed rail whistling through Santa Clarita was on the mind of Mayor Marsha McLean as she took advantage of Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon’s visit to the Chamber of Commerce earlier this week to ask who she should contact in Washington to address her concerns.
“Call your Congressman,” McKeon joked.
Stating she was on several transportation committees, including for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), McLean wanted to know if the “$5 billion” in funds being allocated to the California High Speed Rail Authority could be redirected.
“What we’re trying to do is bring attention to the federal government about taking that money, not for that, but using it to upgrade existing Metrolink and rail all throughout Southern California and throughout California.
According to the California High Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) total funding to the project from both federal and matching state sources is $6.3 billion.
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Michael Cano, Transportation Secretary for 5th District Supervisor Michael Antonovich, says they’re glad McLean is an enthusiastic supporter of the reallocation proposal they made starting in April to SCAG, MTA, and Metrolink.
“With Sand Canyon and communities up in Acton-Agua Dulce basically commenting that the rail corridor was going to decimate their communities, we started looking at this months ago,” Cano said.
Rather than build a destructive viaduct along the Antelope Valley line from Lancaster to Los Angeles, Antonovich proposes improvements to existing rail to boost travel time.
“We could have trains going between 90 and 110 miles per hour on current right-of-ways if you just do simple upgrades like track straightening, put grade separations so trains don’t have to slow down or be worried about that,” said Cano.
In reaction to McLean’s questions, McKeon said there’s going to be a whole lot of change in Washington.
“A transportation bill. I don’t know what the likelihood would be,” McKeon said.
McLean clarified that a new transportation bill would not be required.
“This isn’t money that needs to be allocated, it’s already been allocated. And they’re doing EIRs and they’re taking the money and spending it on ridiculous stuff when it could be used on concrete improvements,” McLean said.
On Tuesday, the California High Speed Rail Authority announced what it called “a major step towards the nation’s first true high-speed system” with the release of Environmental Impact Reports for both the Merced-to-Fresno and Fresno-to-Bakersfield portions of the project.
The CaHSRA is developing an 800-mile high-speed train system that will operate at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, connecting the state’s major urban centers, including the Bay Area, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Initial infrastructure construction will begin in the Central Valley, the backbone of the system, in 2012. The project is being funded through a voter-approved state bond, federal funding awards and public-private partnerships.
McKeon asked McLean to write up a note on her concerns and he promised to follow-up with Congressman John Mica from Florida’s 7th district.
“John Mica is the chairman of the public transportation committee, we came to Congress together and I’ll get you answer on that,” said McKeon.
No joke, this time.