A Peninsula lawmaker has introduced last-minute legislation that would allow the state to begin selling voter-approved high-speed rail bonds to electrify Caltrain from Gilroy to San Francisco.
AB1889 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, would change the wording of previous legislation to approve selling the bonds to pay for upgrades to Caltrain, which for years has been included as part of the plan to build a California high-speed rail system.
The bill previously dealt with a different topic but was modified Tuesday in an effort to free up funding for Caltrain electrification.
Mullin’s legislative director, Andrew Zingale, said the bill is meant to clarify a portion of prior legislation that authorized $1.1 billion for transit improvements at both ends of the high-speed rail project.
Zingale said there was a concern that the wording of existing law could mean high-speed rail would have to be up and running to fund an electrification project, which was not what lawmakers intended.
“What we’re trying to clarify is that this does serve the purpose of that, but we don’t have to wait for the entire corridor of high-speed rail track to be built for the money to be ready to be spent,” he said.
Seamus Murphy, a spokesman for the San Mateo County Transit District, said officials are poised next month to approve the first portion of the approximately $2 billion Caltrain electrification project to speed up travel times and train frequency, and they want to get financing in place. He said the state’s share of the cost would be about $713 million.
“We want to make sure we’re putting everything in place to ensure that we can access those funds,” he said Wednesday. “This is a critical improvement for Caltrain service. We’re experiencing a capacity crisis.”
The project will include electrification of a 55-mile corridor of track from south of San Jose to San Francisco.
High-Speed Rail Authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley said officials are reviewing the bill language but had no further comment.
Voters approved nearly $10 billion in high-speed rail funding in 2008. The state treasurer’s office initially sold about $1.1 billion in high-speed rail bonds, but the bonds have since been encumbered as the project was tied up in court for years. The plaintiffs in the biggest case lost their challenge and opted last month not to appeal, potentially freeing up the financing.
Marc Lifsher, a spokesman for state Treasurer John Chiang, said his office has not received any requests to sell the high-speed rail bonds, which are sold twice a year in spring and fall as part of the state’s general obligation bond sales.