By Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
November 11, 2011

Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he will formally request that the Legislature approve billions of dollars to start construction of the California bullet train next year and will work hard to persuade skeptical lawmakers that the project is critical to the state’s future.

In his first extended remarks on the $98.5-billion project since a controversial business plan was unveiled last week, Brown said that the state will have a broad need for the system in the long term and that it represents a significantly cheaper alternative to additional highway and commercial aviation investments.

“As an idea, if you think of California as growing and expanding, then it fits into it,” Brown said at a meeting with The Times’ editorial board. “It is based on an optimistic assessment of where California is going.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority last week approved a new business plan that more than doubled the project’s cost and a related financing plan that would ask for the first construction money, tapping $2.7 billion in state bonds and $3.3 billion in federal grants.

Rail officials hope the money can cover construction of a 140-mile Central Valley segment from Chowchilla to Bakersfield, though it would not pay for electrification, trains or other necessary parts of an operating system. To actually carry passengers will require more than $20 billion of additional investment in track and equipment, money that the state now does not have.

Still, the start of construction with the money in hand represents “a prudent next step,” and the state could find future sources of funding in new types of federal bonds, in state taxes or even by securing more federal funding, Brown said.

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