jerry-brown.jpgGov. Jerry Brown was in downtown San Francisco Wednesday to sign an $8 billion funding measure to start construction on what is expected to be the country’s fastest rail system.

Brown stood on a platform at the construction site of the Transbay Transit Center–the future northern terminus of California’s high-speed train system–and called the passage of SB 1029 “bold risk-taking” on the part of those who supported it. He compared it to the passage of legislation that led to the construction of the BART system more than 50 years ago.

“When BART was approved, my father was governor,” Brown said. “It barely passed.”

The state Senate approved the high-speed rail funding bill by a margin of just one vote on July 6.

Senate president pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who supported the bill, thanked the governor for his leadership and “for not giving up on the future.”

“We’ve got to build high-speed rail,” Steinberg said. “You can pave the farmlands with new roads and black out skies with airplanes, but the air we breathe will be no better than a tailpipe.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called the Transbay Transit Center the “future Grand Central Station of the West,” and complemented the governor and the mayors of Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and San Jose for supporting the vision of high-speed rail and infrastructure investments in the face of budget cuts and widespread public criticism.

“We’re not waiting,” Lee said. “High-speed rail is the connector for our future investment across the state.”

Under SB 1029, transit agencies at high-speed rail’s “bookends”–the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego–will benefit from millions of dollars in early investments to modernize local rail systems.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will receive around $61 million to help construct a 1.7-mile extension of a light rail line from Fourth and King streets to Chinatown.

Caltrain is set to receive more than $700 million in state funding matched by $750 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission–to replace diesel-powered engines with electric trains.

BART will receive an estimated $145 million to purchase new rail cars and improve tracks at its Millbrae Station, which will eventually be a connector station for high-speed rail trains.

After signing the funding bill for the second time today–the first ceremony took place this morning at Union Station in Los Angeles–Brown brushed off questions from reporters about political opposition to high-speed rail and recent polls that show waning public support.

“The world is full of ‘NIMBYS’ and fearful men,” Brown said. “This is a bold move…don’t’ worry about the polls.”

Construction on the first section of high-speed rail, a 130-mile stretch in the Central Valley, could break ground by the beginning of 2013.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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