Rep. Valadao erects another hurdle to high-speed rail

Freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, has erected yet another hurdle to construction
of the California high-speed rail project.

Using his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Valadao on Thursday won approval
by voice vote of an amendment that says the federal Surface Transportation Board cannot
take action on initial construction phases until the board has given final approval to the
entire project. The practical effect would be to stop initial construction for at least the
foreseeable future, as a massive and necessary environmental impact study has not yet been
completed for the project.

The federal board had previously ruled, in a 2-1 vote, that initial construction of the
Bakersfield to Merced section of the project could proceed. The board’s majority sided with
the California high-speed rail planners in determining that exempting the initial
construction project from prior approval requirements would “minimize the need for federal
regulation and reduce regulatory barriers.” That determination, though, did not amount to
approval of the entire project.

“It is important that impacts of this project are considered in their entirety, and that due
diligence reflects the entire project being pursued,” Valadao declared in a statement.
Valadao’s Surface Transportation Board amendment adds clout to another provision of the
House transportation appropriations bill, which prohibits any funds from the bill from
being used on the California project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has already received some $3.5 billion in
federal funds, and was not anticipating getting any more in fiscal 2014. The high-speed rail
language was included in a bill that, overall, provides $15.3 billion for an assortment of
federal transportation.

The fate of either provision, though, remains very much up in the air, as Congress is not
necessarily on track to give final approval to appropriations bills this year.