California state lawmakers approved an audit request, made by a team of bipartisan politicians, of the state’s High-Speed Rail project after the projected costs for one segment rose by nearly $3 billion. Officials aim to understand whether the statewide infrastructure plan can be completed on deadline and without more dramatic cost increases.
“As a vital partner in the delivery of the high-speed rail system, it is incumbent upon us as a legislative body to provide strong oversight and guidance to ensure the project is on an effective path toward successful completion,” wrote Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose and Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno in their audit request to the joint committee.
California’s ambitious plan to build a bullet train that will connect Los Angeles to San Francisco is now estimated to cost more than $65 billion, up from the $40 billion that was promised to voters in 2008 when they approved the $10-billion revenue bond. Earlier in January, the project’s board announced a segment of track in Central Valley, part of the project’s first phase, will cost an additional $3 billion to complete.
The audit will examine ideas for accelerating the project’s timeline. Now, the segment from San Francisco to Bakersfield is estimated to be open by 2025, with the tracks to Los Angeles open by 2029. Audit examiners will also look at ways to reduce costs and identify other sources of revenue as opponents to the project grow concerned about the train potentially needing state subsidies to operate.
A team of auditors will evaluate the authority’s process for approving changes to contracts. The board has updated several contracts, often increasing money due to delays from lawsuits, the need for environmental approvals, and the inability to acquire rights of way. They will also look at the economic benefits of the project to communities where it is being built and whether the project is meeting its sustainability goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The rail authority is due to release their biennial business plan between February and March, but the board has requested a month-long extension. This could showcase a significant shift in costs or the timeline of the project. The last biennial report announced a dramatic shift in the project — the decision to start on the northern segments of the rail project rather than the southern segments as originally planned.
All of this comes of the heels of the rail authority bringing on new Chief Executive Officer, Brian Kelly.
“It’s critical that the public maintain their confidence in our ability to do this,” said Dan Richard, Chairman of the High-Speed Rail board of directors in the NYTimes. “I think the public confidence will be sustained if they know, well, you’ve done some things well, but these things need to be improved and you’re doing that.”
We will continue to follow this project and represent property and business owners to obtain maximum compensation as the project moves forward. If you think your property or business may be taken for the high-speed rail project, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.