U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) will hold a Twitter town hall meeting at 12 noon Tuesday, in order to discuss the California High-Speed Rail project with his 10th District constituents.
A Twitter town hall is an online meeting set at a specific time for the public to ask questions of the answering party. Questions can be asked by Tweeting @repjeffdenham using the hashtag #CAHSR (California High-Speed Rail) so that Denham and his team know a question is specific to the event.
Denham is aiming to listen to the concerns, questions, and suggestions of the public, as he will be holding a hearing as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on California’s High-Speed Rail project the following day, Wednesday.
California voters approved the High Speed Passenger Train Bond Program (Proposition 1A) on Nov. 4, 2008, authorizing the California Transportation Commission to allocate funds for capital improvements to intercity rail lines, commuter rail lines, and urban rail systems that provide direct connectivity to the high-speed train system and its facilities, or that are part of the construction of the high-speed train system, or that provide capacity enhancements and safety improvements.
An amendment to the proposition in June of 2012 described further details of the program, such as extensions to current transportation systems, including lengthening track at the Millbrae BART Station (cross platform connection to High‐Speed Rail) for increased service and longer BART trains, and purchasing new BART cars.
Denham’s worries come from setbacks in the project, especially in recent months. Sacramento County Superior Court judge Michael Kenny’s declined to approve the sale of more than $8 billion in bonds from Proposition 1A, money that was reportedly planned to be used to start work on High-Speed Rail in the Central Valley.
Essentially, money that has gone into work so far has come from federal funding, as President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package set aside $8 billion dollars for high-speed rail. Including stimulus money, the Federal Railroad Administration has awarded $9.9 billion to the District of Columbia and 34 states, including California. The federal stimulus funds expire in 2017.
California Treasurer Bill Lockyer has stated that he will not sell the state bonds until a court has validated that the process of approving the bonds was done properly. As of now, Kenny does not find this the case.
The 2008 ballot measure approved by voters declared that the group which approved the bonds would be “an independent decision-maker, protecting the interests of taxpayers by acting as the ultimate keeper of the checkbook." The judge believed that the group involved did not thoroughly review and evaluate the bond request, but instead accepted it without maintaining the standards the ballot measure required. Kenny found other discrepancies with the high-speed rail agency’s actions and the voter approved ballot.
In December the agency faced problems again, when they attempted to gain federal approval for the 114-mile line between Fresno and Bakersfield without first completing an environmental review. The federal agency ruled against the California High-Speed Rail Authority's request.
The hearing Denham is to hold Wednesday will examine the project from the federal standpoint, following the ruling against the validation of the bond sales. The ruling prevents the agency from generating the state funds necessary to match the $2.55 billion in federal dollars already spent on the rail system, in addition to denying their funding plan.