Future of California’s main high-speed rail line solidified with $4.2 billion

Diving Brief:

  • An unprecedented budget surplus allowed the California legislature to reach an agreement late Thursday to fund construction of the first phase of the state’s $113 billion, 520-mile high-speed rail project, which is designed to one day connect San Francisco and Los Angeles.
  • Legislators voted to release a critical $4.2 billion bond fund to complete construction of the 171-mile Central Valley Line, and also authorized $3.65 billion for other transit efforts across the state for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The Central Valley Extension – which will link Bakersfield and Merced – is now expected to run trains by 2030.
  • The Central Valley extension is currently under construction and connects other lines at both ends. However, even with the last of the bond funds released and revenue from California’s cap and trade program, the $23.8 billion line will likely require even more funding to complete.

Overview of the dive:

Heads of state had debated for more than a year how to spend the last $9.9 billion in bond funds for the high-speed rail that voters approved in 2008. Governor Gavin Newsom wanted moving forward with the Central Valley expansion, while other Democratic leaders wanted to redirect the money to other transit projects closer to their constituents in urban centers.

With skyrocketing costs, frustrated Democratic leaders did not release bond funds as expected Last year. This year, the surplus allowed them to fund both.

The price of the project rose from 45 billion dollars to more than 113 billion dollars, forcing it to be reduced. California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said in June that inflation could push that estimate to $120 billion, according to the Mercury News. Massive cost overruns are unfortunately common on American railway projects.

California residents were originally promised a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours as well as connections to Sacramento and San Diego, but the last two stops were officially cut due to cost overruns. There is no funding yet for further connections between Bakersfield and Los Angeles or San Jose and Merced. Even the “high speed” aspect of the train has become a source of debate.

To investigate some of these issues, the new funding creates an inspector general to verify authority. The governor will appoint the inspector for a four-year term from a list of nominees selected by a legislative committee.

The legislature’s agreement also released $3.65 billion in this year’s budget for other transit projects across the state. Nearly $1.3 billion of this amount comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Potential candidates for the funds include Caltrain’s delayed electrification project and a BART extension to downtown San Jose.

Jose P. Rogers