monopoly_money.jpgThe state Senate this afternoon voted to spend billions of dollars to start building a high-speed rail system that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Assembly voted 51-27 to approve $8 billion in funding for the initial phase of the $68-billion project Thursday, pushing the Bill to the Senate, where it was approved 21-16 this afternoon in Sacramento.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the funding bill.

Those supporting construction of the high-speed rail line have touted job creation as a key selling point, as state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, acknowledged.

Yee was among those who voted for the project.

Yee’s spokesman Adam Keigwin said Yee is concerned that a majority of the funding – about $6 billion total in both state and federal funds–will go into the Central Valley. But the project still means thousand of jobs will be created in the San Mateo and San Francisco areas, and “a flawed plan is better than no plan,” Keigwin said.

The remaining $2 billion approved today is slated to be funneled into the San Francisco and Los Angeles segments of construction.

Four Democrats voted against the bill, which scraped through the Senate with the bare minimum of votes needed for approval. The concentration of funding in the Central Valley was a major concern for some Bay Area legislators.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said he is a longtime supporter of “high-speed rail done right,” but that this project does not fit that description.

“I still think high-speed rail can make sense for California,” the senator said, “But this is not the best possible plan.”

He said the $6-billion expenditure in the Central Valley is worrisome, given that lower ridership is expected in that region, among other concerns.

However, the senator said he did take “great satisfaction” that the bill will pay for improvements to current transit systems for his Bay Area constituents, including the electrification of Caltrain.

Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said the commuter rail system will receive $600 million to modernize Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco. Commuters could be riding an electrified Caltrain by 2019.

To reach that point, all new equipment will need to be purchased including electric power and overhead catenary systems, according to Dunn.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, voted against today’s high-speed rail plans, which his spokesman Michael Miller said was considered “a risky investment.”

Miller said DeSaulnier thought the funding was “too heavily invested in the Central Valley.”

Brown issued a statement today hailing the approval of funding for the high-speed rail project, which Californians initially approved in a ballot measure in 2008.

“The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again,” the governor said.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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