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Bullet train coming to California ballots

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"The only money ever spent by Californians [on this project] will be $10 billion, and we think that will make it highly attractive to voters even in these tough financial times," says Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, Calif.

The third ballot attempt

Previous statewide votes on the train were readied, then taken off ballots in 2004 and 2006. In 2004, the reason was a large state deficit that required a bailout bond measure, and in 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed one of the state's largest infrastructure bond measures before voters. He and other state legislators did not want any romantic notions of speeding bullet trains competing for voters' attention.

This year, the state has a budget deficit of $16 billion, which could dampen enthusiasm for the train, but the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the proposal sponsor, has secured promises of federal matching funds and funding from public/private partnerships, and a 30-40 percent profit margin.

Though critics say the plan simply mimics the great high-speed trains of Europe, Japan, and China – but without the proven need or demand – proponents say changing life and work styles require the state to embrace new transportation options.

"The whole definition of 'commuter' is changing," says Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "The old model is people going to factory jobs from 8 to 5 … now people are driving 150 miles from one place to another two to three times a week for work, recreation, travel, once-a-week meetings – this generation is changing, and so will the next."

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