California is asking the new Biden administration for a one-year extension on completing a section of track for the state’s High Speed Rail project in the Central Valley.
Brian Kelly, chief executive officer of the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), outlined the delays and cost changes in a letter released on Feb. 4, along with the project’s updated business plan. He is scheduled to discuss it at a CHRA board meeting on Feb. 9, The Associated Press reports.
Kelly wrote that the state now expects to complete construction on a 119-mile segment of track from Bakersfield to Madera in the Central Valley by 2023. The budget for the track segment is expected to increase from $12.4 to $13.8 billion, and the CHSRA will need a deadline extension, since federal funding is tied to a 2022 deadline.
An updated business plan is expected to be approved in April The business plan, a guiding document for the project released every two years, was set to be approved last year but delayed due to the pandemic.
“The High-Speed Rail Authority has not been spared nor is it alone in being impacted by COVID-19,” Kelly wrote.
In his note, Kelly highlighted the project’s successes, noting that construction has employed 5,200 people. Rail officials expect in the coming year to complete 22 miles of track through Kern County, win environmental clearance for segments in Los Angeles County, and award a track and systems contract.
The authority expects to have started construction on 106 miles of track by the end of the year, though it won’t be completed until 2023, Kelly wrote.
AP reported that officials from the Federal Railroad Administration did not immediately respond to questions about whether they will approve the extension. But the state’s relationship with the federal government is likely to improve under the Biden administration, and new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently said he wants to make high-speed rail a priority in the United States.
The state also hopes the Biden administration will give back nearly $1 billion in grant money cancelled by former President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We have commenced conversations with the Biden Administration on these matters. Because the project is advancing, as noted below, we believe we can work with our federal partner on our revised schedule and restore federal investment in this program,” Kelly wrote.
During the pandemic, 244 of the authority’s workers had to undergo quarantine, according to a presentation included in the board materials. There were no additional details on whether those workers were exposed to the virus on the job.
Buttigieg, the new transportation secretary, has not commented specifically on California’s project. But he said recently on MSNBC that high-speed rail will be an administration priority.
“I want the U.S. to be leading the world when it comes to access to high-speed rail,” he said.