High-Speed Rail cost up by $1 billion; 119 miles must be built in 2 years

Funding Woes Spell Trouble For High Speed Rail Project

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — California’s High-Speed Rail Authority on Wednesday bumped its overall cost estimate for completing the rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles to $80.3 billion, blaming inflationary increases and better cost projections for a $1.3 billion boost that still is smaller than in previous years.

After years of embarrassing cost overruns and delays, managers of California’s ambitious bullet-train project insisted that they are on pace to meet a preliminary 2022 federal deadline for laying track along the first segment in the Central Valley.

But that will use up virtually all the money the project has available.

The authority’s latest business plan comes amid pressure from state lawmakers, some of whom want to peel off more of the money to help commuters in the state’s population centers. The 168-page report attempts to counter those critics by emphasizing the $3 billion already going to so-called “bookend” projects in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

It also tries to make the case that building first in the Central Valley remains more efficient than the alternatives.

“We continue to make investments in all three regions of the state,” said Brian Kelly, the project’s chief executive, adding that “California is further along than I think a lot of people think.”

The cost increase is mainly because the plan pushes back the completion of a high-speed rail link between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 18 months, to late 2031.

The increase in the projected baseline cost is smaller than previous jumps, with Kelly calling it “virtually unchanged” and within the ranges of recent previous estimates. The 2016 business plan estimated the project would cost $64 billion. The authority raised that to $77 billion in the 2018 business plan and added $2 billion to the estimate just last year.

The new plan continues to project that the entire San Francisco to Los Angeles route will be running by 2033 — a quarter-century after California voters first approved it — “assuming funding is available when needed.”

In a statement, Fresno-area Assemblymember Jim Patterson branded the 2020 business plan another make-believe document.

“The Authority continues to hope billions will magically appear, while the fight to siphon off Central Valley dollars for Southern California rages on. It’s become a pathetic fight for the scraps of a failing project.”

The draft business plan, which is released every two years, projects that managers can meet the more urgent federal deadline in two years.

By then the state must have 119 miles (192 kilometers) completed, with track on the ground. It must also have environmental clearance for all 520 miles (837 kilometers) to meet its deadline to use $3.5 billion that the state won under the Obama administration to build an initial segment of track in the Central Valley.

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