California's Senate on Friday approved funding for the first chunk of a high-speed rail system that is expected to eventually link Los Angeles to San Francisco.
In a vote of 21-16, lawmakers gave the go-ahead for the issuance of $2.6 billion in bonds, while Washington will provide an additional $3.2 billion. The bill also includes close to $2 billion in funding for local projects.
"Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level. This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness," said Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, a state agency.
The cost of the completed project is estimated at more than $68 billion. The first phase is set to be built in the state's Central Valley.
The bill heads next to the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been a staunch supporter of the project. He says it will help create jobs and modernize the state's transportation system.
Still, the project has had its fair share of critics, including John Tos, an almond farmer.
"We want them to stay off the land. It is not our intention to allow this to happen through our property. We farmed here for a reason, the tranquility of it all. This is farming country. And we want to keep it like that," he said earlier this year.
Other critics are concerned about the potential for cost overruns, and question the project's timing given the economic slump.
Joe Simitian, a Democratic senator, was among those who voted against the bill.
"The question we have to ask ourselves today, is even if you support the vision -- is this a plan that is worthy of our support?" he asked during debate.
According to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the final rail line will allow passengers to zip between San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours, and between Los Angeles and San Diego in 80 minutes.
Every year that the system is being built, as many as 100,000 construction-related jobs will be created, as will up to 450,000 permanent new jobs over the next 25 years, the agency says.
President Barack Obama is a big supporter of high-speed rail. His administration has proposed spending $53 billion on a national high-speed rail network, while he has set the goal of giving 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.