(June 22 -- By Jeff Denham, Special to The Bee)
On May 28, I conducted an oversight hearing on California's high-speed rail project in Madera where we confirmed the California High Speed Rail Authority is facing a $38 billion budget shortfall, with expectations this number will continue to rise.
With the continued lack of a defined business plan, confident ridership numbers or anticipated revenue, the project is a long way from what voters approved in 2008. I need to see a plan that allows for a completed project to be built - or we need to see the money used for local infrastructure that is in immediate need of repair, bringing much needed jobs to the Central Valley.
For this reason I co-sponsored legislation to divert money from high-speed rail toward Highway 99 where it could be put to good use immediately.
Recently, I hosted a town hall meeting aboard the Altamont Corridor Express train, listening to travelers about the benefits of the express train and how expansion could increase investment and employment in the Valley. I am currently working with the Altamont Corridor Express to expand passenger rail in the Valley, where there is proven ridership, so it can better serve their customers with faster and more frequent trains. I hope to enable the Altamont Corridor Express to double the amount of train cars it operates, allowing for quicker trip times with more frequent and reliable service.
Additionally, I worked with my colleagues on the reauthorization of the highway bill to secure a dedicated stream of funding to fix ailing bridges in the Valley, where upward of 20 percent more of California's gas tax dollars will come back for transportation projects in California compared to previous years. California has long been a "donor" state and it's critical that more of your hard-earned tax dollars are put to use in California.
I believe the federal government has a responsibility to fund infrastructure in this country. As chairman of the House subcommittee on rail, our committee has been focusing on improving efficiency, safety and affordability as we review projects that are in a dire state of repair. I have long believed that we must focus on a fix-it-first policy with infrastructure, and that instead of spending $68 billion on a high-speed rail project with no proven ridership, exploding costs and consistently inconsistent business plans, we must focus on fixing the problems we have.
High-speed rail has a future in the United States and California. Let's not ruin high-speed rail's future by building an incomplete project that languishes through several presidents because of poor planning and undefined funding.
If the project cannot be completed as promised to voters under Proposition 1A, then voters deserve an opportunity to vote on the new plan. Otherwise we are saddling future generations with more debt and more taxes for a project that will not be completed for several decades, if ever.
In the meantime we should be spending our scarce resources on projects that we know need repair, can have an immediate impact and will improve daily lives.
Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, is the U.S. representative for the 10th Congressional District of California.