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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ State voters will decide in 2004 whether to spend nearly $10 billion on a high-speed rail system and other public transportation under a measure Gov. Gray Davis signed Thursday.

``This launches a new era of transportation in this state,'' Davis said at a ceremony at the state's railroad museum.

The bill, by Democratic state Sen. Jim Costa, would authorize the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to help pay for a 700-mile system with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph.

Most of the money, $9 billion, would be spent on the first leg of the system, which would connect Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno and San Francisco. Later links would stretch to Sacramento and San Diego.

The rest of the money would be used to improve light rail and other public transportation systems.

Davis' signature puts the measure on the November 2004 ballot.

The total cost of the first leg was estimated at $13.7 billion. Supporters hope to get federal funding to cover the rest of the cost.

Supporters say California will need high-speed trains as its population booms. Critics contend the money would be better spent on highway improvements.

The entire system, estimated to take about 15 years and $26 billion to complete, would be the largest single public works project in the nation's history, said Rod Diridon, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the nine-member board planning the project.

Proponents say revenue from the first leg could fund additions, and Davis said future state funding could be available.


On the Net:

Read the bill, SB1856, at www.senate.ca.gov