SACRAMENTO — Calling it a project whose time has come, the state treasurer and a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a $6 billion bond measure Tuesday to begin construction of a high-speed rail line linking California’s major cities.
“This is going to happen in California. The question is whether it happens sooner rather than later,” said state Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, the bond bill’s lead author.
Sale of the bonds — if approved by lawmakers, the governor and voters — would generate about half the money needed to build a line linking Los Angeles and the San Francisco area with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph.
The federal government and possibly private sources would provide the rest of the money, supporters said. Revenue from the first link would pay for extensions to San Diego and Sacramento.
“We’re not going to finance this by ourselves, just as we have not financed the interstate freeway system by ourselves,” said Costa, pointing to signs that Congress is increasingly interested in helping fund high-speed rail.
Completion of the system would avoid a repeat of the transportation disruptions caused by the Sept. 11 attacks and help meet the state’s needs as its population nearly doubles in the next 40 years, supporters said.
“We need this for mobility,” Treasurer Phil Angelides said at a news conference with Costa, several other lawmakers and officials representing unions and environmental groups.
“We cannot succeed just by building more lanes on freeways and expanding our airports,” he added, citing the cost and controversies that could be generated by such moves.
Costa said European countries and Japan have demonstrated the value of high-speed rail, and Angelides said the state could afford the additional debt created by the bond sale.
“I don’t think we can afford not to do this,” he said.
California has been moving toward development of high-speed rail for several years.
A state commission, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, has proposed a 700-mile system that would connect the Central Valley with Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area. The authority is in the midst of completing environmental studies needed before rails could be laid.
The authority will decide the exact route later, but the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line would generally run south from San Jose, through the Pacheco Pass to the San Joaquin Valley and then south to Los Angeles. Trains would share existing commuter tracks between San Francisco and San Jose.
An express trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles would take about 2 1/2 hours.
Costa’s bill will need two-thirds majorities to get out of the Legislature. That means it will need votes from at least a handful of Republicans. Costa said some Republicans have indicated at least a willingness to consider the project if the authority shows them it is feasible.
But at least one Republican, Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, is highly critical of the proposal, saying the money would be better spent on more freeway projects.
He calls projections that the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line would produce enough revenue to pay for extensions to Sacramento and San Diego “happy thoughts and pixie dust.”
Gov. Gray Davis hasn’t signed off on the bill either, although he is proposing that the authority receive $8.46 million in the coming fiscal year to complete an environmental impact report on the system.