The Federal Transit Administration released $647 million in federal funds Monday for electrifying the commuter rail line Caltrain, after subjecting the project to additional scrutiny because it was approved just days before President Barack Obama left office.
California officials, who had signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement with Transportation Department officials in January, argued the project was crucial to upgrade aging train equipment that transports tens of thousands of commuters between San Francisco and Silicon Valley each day. But Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) had objected that part of the state’s matching money for the project stemmed from a fund voters had originally designated for high-speed rail.
In a statement, FTA officials noted that Congress had appropriated $100 million in fiscal year 2017 in the continuing resolution bill that passed this month.
The fate of the project, which was suspended by Transportation officials in mid-February, was seen as a harbinger of whether the new administration was willing to upend infrastructure projects tied to the previous administration that primarily benefit urban centers.
This month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) threatened to block the confirmation of any Transportation Department nominee until the money was released.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo hailed the move in a statement, saying he was “thrilled to witness the triumph of sound policy over discordant politics.”
“There’s not a more shovel-ready project in the United States. Electrifying Caltrain will pave the way to expand rider capacity, reduce emissions and improve service,” Liccardo said. “I’d like to thank Secretary [Elaine] Chao, who didn’t let partisanship stand in the way of good policy, as well as our entire congressional delegation for their support.”
But Denham questioned why the administration had allowed the grant to proceed.
“This is yet another bait and switch to deceive state taxpayers and take imaginary dollars from one project to pay for another, putting at risk California’s transportation future,” he said in a statement. “Caltrain is not, nor will it ever be, ‘high speed’ and should not be funded with high speed rail dollars, especially when that project has yet to prove its own financial viability. . . . Providing this grant without first conducting an audit is irresponsible.”