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Judge expects to allow California high-speed rail funding

FILE -- In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, a full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A group challenging California's bullet train will have a last chance Wednesday to convince a judge who says is unlikely to side with them and block the project.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei is expected to hear arguments Wednesday before allowing the $64 billion high-speed rail project to go forward.

Unless opponents can change his mind, he expects to dismiss the lawsuit by Kings County and other opponents targeting the plan to eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a bullet train.

The California High Speed Rail Authority has won a series of legal battles, allowing the project to continue moving forward even though long-term funding remains uncertain.

The opponents' lawsuit aims to block the state from spending about $1.25 billion raised from bonds sold last week.

The lawsuit challenges AB1889, which was signed into law last year by high-speed rail proponent Gov. Jerry Brown. It changed previous laws to allow money from high-speed rail bonds to be spent on the electrification of 55 miles of track from south of San Jose to San Francisco.

The lawsuit says the change is beyond what California voters approved in 2008 when they agreed to nearly $10 billion in high-speed rail funding. Opponents argue that only voters can make the change.

"The voters were informed that the bond funds may be used for a broad array of purposes," Cadei wrote in his tentative ruling rejecting that argument. "The stated goal remains the construction of a high-speed train system."

Attorney Stuart Flashman said Cadei misinterpreted opponents' legal objection.

"We'll be in there and arguing," said Flashman. "We think that what they did in enacting AB1889 was unconstitutional."

Lawmakers and the rail authority said the bill was merely clarifying legislation that authorized $1.1 billion for transit improvements at both ends of the high-speed rail project.

A spokesman for California's state treasurer has said the legal challenge didn't harm last week's bond sale. The bond sale was allowed because plaintiffs in the biggest lawsuit challenging the high-speed rail project lost their case last year and decided not to appeal.

Opponents are promising future court challenges.

The project's future also remains uncertain because it relies on significant federal funding, and the Republican-controlled Congress does not support the project.

Private money also is needed but none has been secured yet.

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