The Trump administration has postponed deciding whether to approve millions in federal funding for an electrified Caltrain. Should the project become the newest casualty of the word of words (and tweets) between the President and state Democrats, it will be a signal that “the state’s outspoken political opposition to the Trump administration might come with a price.”
When it comes to good old-fashioned, earth-cleaving infrastructure projects that create jobs and make legacies, President Trump and Gov. Brown share a mutual fondness. These may be fractious times, but surely we can find common ground over breaking ground, right?
Well, maybe not.
Which is why you might want to keep an eye on what’s happened since Trump’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao decided to kick the can on whether to approve a $647 million grant to help electrify the Caltrain rail corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. According to a statement from Caltrain, the decision will be put off until the Trump administration puts together its budget for the next fiscal year.
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Even so, the regional rail operator is treating the development as a mere delay rather than a deathblow. The contract with electrification workers, who were due to get working this week, has been extended through June 30. That extension may add another $20 million to the project’s cost.
The Trump administration’s decision to delay approval of the project followed a letter last month in which 14 Republican members of Congress from California asked Chao not to fork over any more federal money to their own state’s rail projects until California’s costly high-speed rail project—a pet project of Democratic Gov. Brown—receives a full audit. Given the billions of dollars in cost overruns facing that project, they write, handing more rail money to the Golden State would be “an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.”
Still, many critics wonder at the connection between the political lightning rod that is high-speed rail and Caltrain’s electrification plans. As Slate’s Henry Grabar notes, California’s future bullet train is envisioned to one day speed along Caltrain’s modernized tracks. But otherwise, the projects are distinct. Caltrain has been planning to electrify its tracks—and in so doing, boost ridership capacity through one of the state’s busiest commuter stretches—since 1999.
A delay from Chao doesn’t mean that the prospect of an electrified Caltrain is dead. But should the project become the newest casualty of the word of words (and tweets) between the President and state Democrats, it will be proof that, as Grabar put it, “the state’s outspoken political opposition to the Trump administration might come with a price.”
A $647 million price, to be exact.
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