Despite some suggestions in published reports, California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t killed the California High Speed Rail project. However, he has made it clear that the state now plans to focus on completing the portion under construction in the Central Valley, without a guarantee that the entire project will be completed.
In his first State of the State speech last week, Newsom said the project, which has ballooned in price from $45 billion to $77 billion, is out of control and needs trimming. The governor later added the project otherwise would run out of money with nothing to show for it except “angst, frustration and finger-pointing,” the Sacramento Bee reports.
Newsom said he will focus on finishing by 2027 the 171 mile line from Merced to Bakersfield, rather than trying to link to the San Fransciso Bay area.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, whose city has been torn up by rail line construction, hosted a meeting on Feb. 13 with Newsom and the mayors of Merced and Bakersfield.
“This will do no good if it’s only from Bakersfield to Merced,” he said. “The connection to Silicon Valley and San Francisco benefits the entire Valley.”
Newsom said the state intends to finish environmental studies for connector routes to L.A. and the Bay Area, and 220-mph bullet trains may one day reach the state’s coastal urban centers. He has indicted that a future route from Bakersfield to Los Angeles would, in fact, have to be completed with the help of federal and private money.
“We finish the environmental work, we continue to advocate for more federal dollars and private sector dollars, of which I think are more likely to come to California when we demonstrate that we can actually deliver on something,” he said. “That’s why I want to take all the unallocated money and focus it, with intensity, with transparency, with increased level of scrutiny to get something done in a part of the state that desperately needs investment.”
Administration officials note that Newsom’s plan expands the high-speed rail line by about 50 miles in the Valley. Under his revised concept, trains will run into downtown Bakersfield, rather than stopping outside the city. And Newsom plans to extend the line farther north to Merced, instead of the previous Valley terminus at Madera.
In a statement, California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said: “The Governor has called for setting a priority on getting high speed rail operating in the only region in which we have commenced construction—the Central Valley. We are eager to meet this challenge and expand the project’s economic impact in the Central Valley.
“Importantly, he also reaffirmed our commitment to complete the environmental work statewide, to meet our “bookend” investments in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and to pursue additional federal and private funding for future project expansion.
“We welcome this direction and look forward to continuing the important work on this transformative project.”