The California bullet train project: Spending $27 million a day may not be enough to complete the job

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The California bullet train project has cost taxpayers an average $3.1 million a day over the last year — a construction spending rate higher than that for any U.S. transportation project in recent history, the Los Angeles Times reports.

However, the published story says that the money may not be enough because the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) will need to increase daily spending “by up to nine times over the next four years” or risk further delays in the budgeted $77 million project, with a current 2033 deadline.

Read the LA Times report here

“It’s a very aggressive spending rate,” the newspaper quotes the authority’s chief financial officer Russel Fong as saying.

However, outside experts are not convinced that the $27-million per day construction spending rate is possible.

“That burn rate is ludicrous,” said civil engineer James Moore, director of USC’s transportation engineering program. “It is so far outside standard experience that it doesn’t make sense to assume it will occur.”

The spending schedule depends on whether the rail authority can avoid serious engineering problems, and is based on inflation rates that the newspaper reports some experts believe are highly optimistic.

If the rail authority misses the 2033 target date, inflation probably will raise the project’s tab by as much as $2 billion a year. That’s because tens of billions of dollars of work could get pushed into future years when costs will be higher, and the state will have to keep employees, contractors and consultants on the payroll longer.

“One of the things that this program has experienced, which has not been good, is consistently projecting things to happen by certain dates and it does not happen,” rail authority board member Michael Rossi, a former banking executive, said at a recent audit committee meeting.

Voters approved the project in 2008.The goal, when completed, is to transport riders from the Bay Area to southern California in less than three hours.


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