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Calif. lawmakers wary of speed rail's growing price tag

December 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In the coming months, a joint committee will be deciding the fate of California's high-speed rail.

The next five state budgets will contain a new line item for the project, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are nervous about the now $100 billion inflation-adjusted price tag, twice the original estimate.

For every year the high-speed rail project is delayed, the price goes up about $2-3 billion.

Voters only approved a $10 billion bond in 2008.

"There is no commitment from the federal government, no commitment from the private sector. I think those are serious questions that need to be answered," said Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

The High-Speed Rail Authority continues to be optimistic. It says funding will come through in phases.

The feds are already providing more than $3 billion in stimulus money, mandating that the first segment start in the jobs-depressed Central Valley, from near Merced to Bakersfield.

The state will match that to complete the 130-mile stretch.

Lawmakers worry if other money doesn't come through to build the rest of the system, it'd be a train to nowhere.

"Is the proposal that's on the table for the Central Valley worth $6 billion and what do we get for that?" said Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

Tom Umberg of the High-Speed Rail Authority said we would have a section that Amtrak could use, which would shave 45 minutes off the transit time that exists today.

There are also revelations the High-Speed Rail Authority spent more than $12 million on public relations, many of those contracts going to politically connected consultants."

"A lot of that P.R. money has been misspent, in my view, as opposed to spending it on community outreach," said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).

The Authority insists those contracts were for community outreach. Still, the spending is not sitting well with taxpayer groups.

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