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Rohrabacher Testifies at High Speed Rail Hearing

Dec 12, 2011

Washington, Dec 12, 2011 - Republican lawmakers expressed doubts Thursday about the viability of California's high-speed rail project, indicating that it will be extremely difficult for supporters to generate the tens of billions of dollars in federal investment that will be needed to complete the proposed 800-mile line.

A House panel held an oversight hearing to review why the project has more than doubled in cost to $98.5 billion and why it's expected to take until 2033 to complete — 13 years longer than originally projected.

GOP Rep. John Mica of Florida, the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, described the project as "imploding." He noted that the California line has received about $4 billion in federal money, or about a third of the government's investment in high speed rail nationally.

"That's a huge amount of money that will not show success," Mica said.

State voters approved $10 billion in funding for high-speed rail, but a recent poll shows dwindling support for the project, which would extend from Sacramento and San Francisco to San Diego. More government dollars will be needed, but several members of the Republican-controlled House indicated that the tap should be shut off.

Democratic lawmakers pushed back, saying the state's transportation network is overwhelmed and that alternatives are needed to keep the state economically competitive. They noted that China is undergoing a construction boom in high-speed rail.

Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of California said that with low interest rates and inflation, now is the perfect time to invest heavily in the high-speed rail line. He said that the nation relied on bold, visionary leaders to build the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War, the Hoover Dam during a depression and the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

"It sounds like some of you say we can't do anything," he said in response to the Republicans' criticism.

"It's never an easy thing to invest in the beginning," added Rep. Loretta Sanchez. "We must have the courage to say we need high-speed rail and that it makes sense for the backbone of California to have that in place and that it will cost money."

The high-speed rail line would be built in two phases. The first would extend from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim; the second would extend the line to Sacramento in the north and San Diego in the south. Proponents said that construction would generate 100,000 jobs over the next five years.

Rep Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said that some of money going to high-speed rail could be put to better use, such as building up infrastructure that would make more water available to California's farms and residents.

Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia observed early in the hearing that the political divide he was hearing from the GOP and Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation reminded him of the political battles over water supply that he had watched over the years.

"It's like a never-ending TV reality show," Rahall said.

Rohrabacher responded that he would rather be compared to a reality show than to be compared to "Fantasy Island," underscoring his belief that the project didn't make economic sense.

The Obama administration reiterated its support for the high-speed rail proposal in California. Joseph C. Szabo, administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, said each stage of the line would generate an operating profit and would produce substantial public benefits, such as improved air quality and reduced congestion.

He said that private investors are interested in the project, but it's not realistic to expect substantial private investments until after initial construction.

"The worst thing we can do is show uncertainty," Szabo said.