by James Poulos | February 20, 2016 5:07 am
Despite a major shift in its construction strategy, newly anticipated budget overruns hit California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project, as citizens and lawmakers mounted fresh challenges to the scheme.
“California High-Speed Rail Authority employees are warning of possible cost overruns on the first segment of the bullet train, not long after construction began,” according to the Associated Press. “Finance officials told rail board members Tuesday that the project could need another $150 million for the first 29-mile segment near Fresno. In all, that could push contingency costs $260 million higher than the board already has approved for the entire first section.”
The news marked another frustration and potential embarrassment for rail officials, who had recently upended their years-long plan to begin construction in Southern California. Belatedly discovering that tunneling the train’s way into and out of Los Angeles could grind progress to a virtual halt, they quickly pivoted to a plan that would start laying the train’s path in and around Silicon Valley.
“The Caltrain commute line between Gilroy and San Francisco is poised to get an early infusion of cash to help pay for its $1.7 billion conversion to electric power,” the San Francisco Chronicle noted. “That conversion is essential for high-speed rail. Plus, the South Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco constitute a huge potential market for bullet trains. A promise of early Bay Area service could build political support for the overall system and attract private investment that is badly needed to build out the $68 billion rail line.”
Yet state officials announced that the Silicon Valley starting point would enable them to connect travelers with the Central Valley for less than the original $68 billion. “In an updated draft plan for the rail line that will whisk passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours by 2029, the California High-Speed Rail Authority revised downward the cost of the entire line, to $64.1 billion from nearly $68 billion,” Reuters observed. The new budget anticipates nearly $3 billion “in additional funding from the federal government,” with San Jose linking up to Kern County “by 2025.”
Even the altered scheme has returned the rail authority to familiar territory: court. On the heels of “more than a dozen” lawsuits, the Los Angeles Times reported, officials found themselves once again under legal attack: “The California bullet train project violates state law because it is not financially viable, will operate slower than promised and has compromised its design by using existing shared tracks in the Bay Area, attorneys for Kings County and two Central Valley farmers argued. The lawsuit asserts that the state’s plans for the Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed rail link violate restrictions placed on the project under the $9-billion bond act that voters approved in 2008.”
“The suit asks to halt funding for construction and land acquisition, allowing spending only to develop an alternative plan. A ruling is supposed to be issued within 90 days. Judge Michael Kenny had asked the attorneys to focus on five technical questions revolving around the state’s compliance with the bond act.”
The lawsuit echoed doubts raised recently by Assemblyman David Hadley, R-South Bay. Hadley “told local radio station KFI 640 AM that the new route potentially goes against a provision in the high-speed rail legislation that says the train must first connect to Los Angeles,” according to Reason. “He stated the language was added to ensure Southern Californians didn’t foot the bill for a train that could very well end up becoming a regional transportation project. Hadley is introducing legislation next week that would take a portion of funds away from the high-speed rail project based on the new plans to build north,” the magazine added.
Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2016/02/20/costs-plague-embattled-high-speed-rail/
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