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Biden administration, reversing Trump, hands California nearly $1 billion for bullet train

Biden administration, reversing Trump, hands California nearly $1 billion for bullet train

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Plagued with delays and cost overruns, California's high-speed rail project has received a partial lifeline from the Biden administration: the return of $929 million in federal funding that was taken away two years ago.

In a deal announced late Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the federal Department of Transportation has agreed to restore the dollars that had been rescinded in early 2019 by the Trump administration.

Newsom called the reversal "further proof that California and the Biden-Harris administration share a common vision — clean, electrified transportation that will serve generations to come. Restoring nearly $929 million in grant funding ... will continue to spur job creation, advance the project and move the state one step closer to getting trains running in California as soon as possible."

The Trump administration pulled the funding, which had been appropriated by Congress in 2010, on the grounds that the project had missed numerous deadlines set by the federal government for completing certain construction milestones. Trump aides also cited Newsom's statement, days earlier, that he was going to downsize the project.

Newsom, though, said Trump withdrew the dollars to retaliate for the governor's legal challenge seeking to halt the former president's plans to build a wall on the Mexican border. The state eventually sued the federal government over the lost rail dollars; the late Thursday announcement represents a settlement.

The Democratic governor has been trying to bolster the project's funding, in spite of his earlier vow to scale it back. In his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, Newsom wants to enable the High-Speed Rail Authority to spend $4.2 billion in state bond money to help complete a 171-mile stretch through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, from Merced to Bakersfield.

In any event, the project remains far behind schedule and well over budget. The Merced-to-Bakersfield route is expected to cost as much as $22.8 billion, well over the original projection.

The Biden administration has signaled its support for the California project for some time. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in April that the administration's massive infrastructure spending plan could include funding for the bullet train. The infrastructure bill, however, is struggling to gain passage in Congress.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees both the 2010 grant as well as about $2.5 billion in federal grants awarded during the Obama administration, signaled a renewed willingness to collaborate with the embattled California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The state agency is tasked with developing what is ultimately envisioned as a 520-mile line of electrified trains connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles at speeds up to 220 mph, with future extensions to Sacramento and San Diego.

Brian Kelly, the CEO of the state rail agency, expressed "deep frustration" with the Federal Railroad Administration in 2019 for effectively halting its collaboration with the state, blaming federal officials for dragging their feet for more than six months in reviewing materials from the state for approval.

The inaction, Kelly said at that time, was an example of the administration's "evolving position from one of cooperation and partnership to disengagement that appears calculated to impede the project's progress."

In a statement Friday, Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Amit Bose hailed the settlement of the lawsuit as "an important step in advancing an economically transformational project in California."

The federal agency, Bose added, "is excited about reestablishing this important relationship ith the state of California and is committed to fulfilling its oversight responsibilities."

Napa's Rainbow Action Network and First 5 Napa Network just rolled out a series of new Rainbow Little Libraries. They were created to share diverse, anti-racist and LGBTQ-inclusive messages with young readers, families and supporters.

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