Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, said this afternoon that if the Legislature does not approve funding for the project today and Friday, it is essentially dead.
"If the Legislature doesn't move forward with the project this week, then the secretary of transportation has made it very clear that they need to look at withdrawing the money from California and putting it some place else," Richard told reporters ahead of a likely floor vote in the Assembly this afternoon. "Without that federal match, we're not going to be able to go forward. So, effectively, yes, this is the time when California decides, 'Do we want to move forward with this rail modernization or don't we?'"
The Assembly is expected to approve funding for the project, but support in the Senate, which is expected to vote tomorrow, is uncertain. Richard declined to say if he believes the rail authority has the necessary Senate votes.
"I don't make those predictions," he said. "I'm not a member of the Legislature, and the thing that I've found is that people who make those predictions are either presumptuous or stupid. So I'm going to decline to be either."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged lawmakers in May to vote on the rail project before the Legislature's summer recess. The controversial project now polls poorly among California voters, and some Democratic senators have criticized the project's oversight and cost.
The Legislature is expected to vote on a bill that ties $5.8 billion in funding for construction in the Central Valley to nearly $2 billion in funds to improve regional rail systems and connect them to high-speed rail. Rail advocates have used the promise of regional investment to lobby senators in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.
"I think the one thing that is most important to emphasize is that while over the last couple of years people have really talked about this as the high-speed rail program, the fact of the matter is that what our new business plan is all about is an integrated rail modernization program for the state," Richard said. "It's not just high speed rail."
He said, "We have really put the best plan forward that we could put forward."