SACRAMENTO — The California High-Speed Rail Authority voted Monday to issue nearly $8.6 billion in taxpayer-approved bonds to build the nation’s first bullet train.
Officials say they will try to sell $2.6 billion of the bonds as the state rushes to begin construction in July.
“It’s another step towards the process of breaking ground on the nation’s first high speed rail system in California this summer,” authority Chairman Dan Richard said after the vote.
The six-member board approved the step on a 5-0 vote, without debate and with one member absent. It previously sold $400 million worth of bonds.
It’s the authority’s last such authorization needed before groundbreaking, but the project still must withstand lawsuits that have court hearings in coming months. They include a hearing April 19 over the project’s environmental impacts, while a May 31 hearing will consider whether the funds meet the requirements set by voters when they approved the high speed rail program in 2008.
Adverse rulings in those lawsuits could stall the bond money, though Richard said groundbreaking can proceed using $3.3 billion in federal matching funds.
The first full segment of the $68 billion rail line will run from Madera to Bakersfield. The project eventually is supposed to link Northern and Southern California with trains traveling up to 220 mph.
Contractors have submitted bids to design and build the first $1.8 billion, 30-mile stretch of track.
Lawmakers appropriated the initial $2.6 billion last year along with another $1.1 billion in non-high speed rail bonds. They would have to act again to appropriate the remainder of the $8.6 billion, Richard said.
Interest payments on the entire amount would cost the state an estimated $700 million a year for 35 years, but the debt payments of about $175 million a year on the initial $2.6 billion would come from fees paid by commercial truckers, not from the state’s general fund, Richard said. He said it is not clear if the overweight fees on truckers would cover the entire amount.