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Federal official reaffirms commitment to California high speed rail

A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
California High Speed Rail Authority
A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says the federal government still backs California's high speed rail project.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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California’s high speed rail project got a vote of confidence Tuesday from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The message came as high speed rail advocates held their annual meeting down the street from the U.S. Capitol.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told the High Speed Rail Summit that the hundred million new U.S. residents expected by the year 2050 will overwhelm the nation’s transportation systems. And as long as we’re going to add rail capacity, he said, it may as well be the fastest practical technology — high speed rail.

Foxx said the Obama administration remains committed to California’s $68 billion high speed rail project, which would connect L.A. to San Francisco. He admitted there are "obviously some challenges," but said Governor Jerry Brown has reaffirmed the commitment of the state to the project by promising "significant amounts of cap-and-trade dollars to the project."

RELATED: Biden gives a public nod to California's high-speed rail project

That $250 million in carbon credits — purchased by businesses that exceed a cap on carbon dioxide emissions — still requires legislative approval and likely faces legal challenges. But Foxx insisted the state’s commitment is “solid.” He said the administration will continue to support California's project "as long as that’s true."

Late last year, a California judge stopped the sale of state bonds to pay for the state’s portion of high speed rail, putting $3 billion in federal funds — and the project itself — in jeopardy. Governor Brown proposed the cap-and-trade funds as an additional source of revenue.

The project also has foes on Capitol Hill. Central Valley Republican Jeff Denham has introduced a bill to stop federal funding of high speed rail until matching state and private money is secured. Denham and several Congressional friends of high speed rail make their presentation to the high speed rail conference Wednesday.

Secretary Foxx said it's not just California jumping on the high speed bandwagon. Both Texas and Florida are also considering high speed rail. For Florida that represents a turnaround since that state's governor earlier returned federal high speed rail dollars, as did leaders in two other states. David  Cameron of the Teamsters Union told the High Speed Rail Summit that was a political move designed to help make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Construction is expected to start late this spring on a stretch of the project in California's Central  Valley.