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California High Speed Rail Authority extends contracts totaling nearly $50M

April 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The California High Speed Rail Authority extended the contracts of two consulting firms, totaling nearly $50 million. Project leaders say the extensions were needed because of delays and that the new expense was anticipated and budgeted according to guidelines approved by voters under Proposition 1A.

I asked Rob Wilcox with the High Speed Rail Authority if $68 billion is still the total price tag.

"Absolutely, for the entire life of the project," he replied. "Because we're spending dollars, that doesn't mean it's an increased cost. It's already an approved expenditure within the budget, within Prop 1A."

The consultants will navigate the project through state and federal bureaucracies.

"These are key to environmental clearances and moving the project forward," said Wilcox.

Taxpayer groups are livid because millions have already been spent on a project that has yet to break ground.

"It just seems very ironic that they're having to spend tens of millions of dollars to hire consultants for the purpose of getting over bureaucratic hurdles," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the legislature to approve another $5 million for the Rail Authority to hire 44 new positions, more office space and about $800,000 in raises for existing staff. The pay bump would need to be approved by the state personnel department.

Some members of the public tried to voice their opinions on the rail project, but for the second meeting in a row, the teleconference system didn't work.

"If the High Speed Rail Authority cannot conquer the technology of a conference call, what makes you think they're prepared to build the world's most sophisticated rail system?" said Coupal.

Wilcox said they'll make sure to "correct those problems going forward."

Despite what seems like a mess now, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently found that the ridership cost and revenue forecast were actually reasonable.


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