Nine years after California voters narrowly approved a nearly $10-billion bond to launch the $64-billion statewide High-Speed Rail project, residents and officials are wondering where the project is headed in 2018 and beyond. The narrative being pushed by Gov. Brown and the rail authority is that the project is making steady advances. Opponents tell a different story: that the project is seven years behind schedule, has exploded in cost overruns while shrinking in scope, and funding is uncertain.
It’s been nearly a year since the former-CEO of the rail authority, Jeff Morales, announced his exit plan and nearly six months since he resigned. The rail authority has been unable to find a suitable CEO. In early November, the rail authority board met in a closed session to discuss the opening, but there has been no public evidence of progress. The rail authority continues to operate without a CEO.
A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office showed the rail authority’s heavy reliance on the uncertain funds from the state’s cap-and trade program puts the project into question. In October, a Los Angeles Times analysis noted the state expects to generate $5.2 billion from the cap-and-trade auctions. After an underperforming auction market in 2016, the High-Speed Rail fared much better in 2017, but many spectators are highly uncertain how much the cap-and-trade fund might provide for the state.
Once the $10-billion in state and federal funds are spent, the state will have no more funds to count on beside the little money that will come in from the quarterly cap-and-trade auctions. There is no doubt about it: the authority needs to find additional funds or stretch every dollar they have. The proposed project in 2008 hinged on private investors, but they’re keeping their money out until the state can offer ridership or revenue guarantees. The rail authority has yet to produce a report explaining how they plan to fund the project that seems to be headed nowhere.
The exact route of the High-Speed Rail has yet to be determined and we’ll probably have to wait until 2020, when the rail authority now plans to complete the project’s environmental reviews. Events in Bakersfield are an example of problems the rail authority is facing. A new plan that would take the train along Highway 99 and Highway 204 and continue heading east has drawn many negative reactions. The plan would require a station to be added at F Street and Highway 204 junction — a topic several residents oppose.
In 2014, Bakersfield sued the CHSRA over their plan saying that it would severely impact downtown Bakersfield and asserting that the initial environmental report hadn’t addressed these impacts. Such impact includes the loss of a homeless center in Bakersfield. Sooner or later, the center will need to relocate.
The high-speed rail is underway with construction on the first segment going from San Jose to… an almond orchard in rural Kern County. The rail authority originally promised the first segment wouldn’t start until the state had enough funding in hand to build a segment that could be self-sustaining.
These developments this year show why the fate of the project will become a central issue in the 2017 Governor’s race.
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.