High-speed rail is in danger of grinding to a halt before it ever starts up, according to a new independent report. Bureaucracy and a lack of money are getting the blame.
The project to connect Northern California to Southern California by bullet train is supposed to cost $43 billion. But California has only received $3.6 billion from the federal government, with no assurances more is coming.
The non-partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office questions the wisdom of starting California's high-speed rail project in the Central Valley, which was chosen because the federal government required that location to qualify for federal stimulus money.
In a new report, researchers fear that if the entire system isn't built, there'd be trains with low ridership.
"We would recommend that you not proceed because we think the prospects of success would be so small," said Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor.
"High-speed rail is an economic game-changer for us in the Central Valley," said state Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno). Perea says this project is vital to the Central Valley for jobs.
"I represent a district that has over 18 percent unemployment and some towns, nearly half of the town is unemployed," said Perea. "So high-speed rail is going to provide a huge economic opportunity."
The legislative analyst recommends instead of starting just south of Merced to Bakersfield, that the state break ground on the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim, San Francisco-to-San Jose or San Jose-to-Merced legs.
Despite $9 billion in voter-approved bonds, the report was also critical of the project's financing and management.
- Costs were outdated and underestimated
- Risky decisions were being made because of the federal government's deadlines
- The business plan lacked details
- The state budget might need to make up funding shortfalls
State Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) had a bill that would have defunded the high speed rail project.
"I'm trying basically to call attention to the huge amount of debt and the huge risky undertaking that this is with the lack of information that we have," said Harkey.
"Let's take a deep breath, slow it down, figure out how to do it best and do it," said state Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation.
The Legislative Analyst's Office recommends asking the federal government for some funding flexibility so the project can start somewhere else more viable and to let Caltrans take over the project from the High Speed Rail Authority, which so far has paid 600 consultants.