The hopes for high-speed rail linking Los Angeles and San Francisco have been dealt a significant blow with new Governor Gavin Newsom saying it is time to be ‘real’ about the costs of the project.
Newsome, speaking in his inaugural address in the state legislature in Sacramento, announced a radical scaling back of the project saying that the line needed to concentrate on linking cities in California’s Central Valley.
Newsome said: “Let’s level about High-Speed Rail. I have nothing but respect for Governor [Jerry] Brown’s and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ambitious vision. I share it. And there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation.
“But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
Newsome said there wasn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA.
A high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles to San Francisco was what was promised to voters in a ballot measure in 2008.
That line would have extended 520-miles at an initial estimated cost of $33bn. It was suggested it was due for completion in 2020 with a subsequent connection to San Diego and Sacramento.
Further estimates have pushed the bill to $77bn with a suggested completion date of 2033.
The Governor said the state did have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. That project represents a 171-mile segment of the line and is already under construction.
He added: “I know that some critics will say this is a “train to nowhere.” But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.”
He added that high-speed rail was much more than a train project but about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.
“We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High-Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.
“Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize.
He said he was not in favour of walking away from the whole endeavour given the wasted dollars that would mean.
“Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.
“We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses. It’s going online, for everybody to see,” he said.