Gov. Jerry Brown invoked history and lambasted critics Wednesday in signing off on the financing for the first portion of a California high speed rail system -- a quest that now moves from the political realm to the worlds of engineering and, perhaps, the courts.
"When things aren't going so well," said Brown in a signing event in San Francisco, "it's not the time to kind of hunker down and hope that it all blows over. You have to take the bull by the horns and start spending and investing in things that make sense."
The governor actually signed the bill, SB 1029, at two separate events: a morning bill signing at Union Station in Los Angeles, and an afternoon event in San Francisco at what will be the city's transbay terminal.
In Los Angeles, Brown invoked the history of projects like the Panama Canal; in San Francisco, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. And he said such projects were about "vision" and "sacrifice" over the long term.
But high speed rail needs to traverse political and legal landscapes unknown by those projects. The Golden Gate Bridge reference, which the governor has made before, also presents train critics with some ammunition. After all, the Marin-to-San Francisco span was financed by taxes and bridge tolls... a plan that was put in place from the get-go; the bullet train project, on the other hand, carries a $68 billion price tag that relies on large federal and private cash infusions that have yet to be identified.
Money, of course, was what the bill signed into law was all about -- authorizing $8 billion of spending, including some of the 2008 voter-approved state bonds and federal grants. A spokesman for the state treasurer's office says no decision has been made yet on when to actually sell the state bonds.
Those bonds will require annual interest payments from the state. For the first two fiscal years, the payments will be made from dollars collected by truck weight fees. After that, the payments could depend on the state's beleaguered general fund.
Officials say actual construction won't begin until early next year; before then, the to do list includes everything from permit approvals to purchase of land to selection of the company that will actually design and build the initial Central Valley stretch.
That's assuming legal challenges don't derail the project. Five pending lawsuits have been filed, several focusing on the high speed rail effort's legality under state environmental laws.
And as for public polls suggesting that voters may be having a bit of buyers remorse on high speed rail, the governor Wednesday dismissed any notion of storm clouds on the train's horizon.
"We're building for the future," he told the crowd in Los Angeles. "Millions of people are going to come to California, and they're going to ride the rails again."