$1.6 billion in California High-Speed Rail contracts deferred to December: Is this a funds diversion capitulation or simply a COVID-19 delay?

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HSR construction in Wasco. SoCal politicians want to stop 117 miles of HSR track from being completed. Photo: CaHSRA
HSR construction in Wasco. SoCal politicians want to stop 117 miles of HSR track from being completed. Photo: CaHSRA

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) is delaying$1.6 billion of construction contract signing from September until December, San Francisco Streetsblog reports.

The work is for 119 miles of track systems and electrification–basically, everything that sits on top of the bridges and tunnels that are already built. “It’s what allows you to run trains on it,” Boris Lipkin, Northern California Regional Director for the project, was quoted as saying.

The publication reports that the Los Angeles Times is framing this as a capitulation toSouthern and Northern California Assemblymembers pushing to divert that money from the Central Valley to projects in their districts.

However, Lipkin told Streetsblog the decision to delay is actually about the pandemic. “When COVID hit, what we heard back from some of the bidders was that it had caused ripples through financial markets, so they asked for more time to evaluate what those implications are.”

Streetsblog also suggests the delay might make sense from another perspective: if Biden and the Democrats sweep Washington, which polls show is likely, more money will come from the Feds. “The Obama Administration provided $3.5 billion in 2008 for CAHSRA and one would expect his vice-president, himself one of the biggest rail boosters in Washington, to provide far more”

Lipkin, however, said the contracts in question are the next step regardless of what happens in November.

In the meantime, “all of the work that has been going on around the state will continue to advance. This includes construction work, environmental reviews, bookend projects, and our necessary procurements to meet our federal requirements. We are not slowing down,” said CAHSRA spokesperson Annie Parker.

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