Calif. lawmakers question rising cost of high speed rail

6:59 PM, Dec 5, 2011   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - In the coming months, a joint legislative committee will be deciding the fate of California's high speed rail.

The next five state budgets will contain a new line item for the project, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are very nervous about the now $100 billion inflation-adjusted price tag, twice the original estimate.

Voters only approved a $10 billion dollar bond in 2008.

"There is no commitment from the federal government, no committment from the private sector. I think those are serious questions that need to be answered," said st. Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. 

The California High Speed Rail Authority continues to be optimistic. It says funding will come through in phases.

The feds are already providing more than $3 billion in stimulus money, mandating that the first segment start in the jobs-depressed Central Valley, from near Merced to Bakersfield.

The state will match that to complete the 130-mile stretch.

Lawmakers worry if other money doesn't come through to build the rest of the system, it'd be a train to nowhere.

((St. Sen. Joe Simitian/D-Palo Alto: "Is the proposal that's on the table for the Central Valley worth $6 billion and what do we get for that?" st. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, wants to know.

"Then we would have a section that Amtrak could use, which would shave 45 minutes off the transit time that exists today," responded Tom Umberg with the high spped rail authority.

There are revelations the high speed rail authority spent more than $12 million on public relations -- many of those contracts going to politically-connected consultants."

"A lot of that PR money has been misspent, in my view, as opposed to spending it on community outreach," said st. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

The Authority insists those contracts were for community outreach, Still, the spending is not sitting well with taxpayer groups.

"We have suspected all along that the majority of funding spent by the High Speed Rail Authority has been going towards all kinds of things other than actually building a railroad," Jon Couple with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said.[41:28/runs=:05]

"We need to do better," admitted Umber. "I saw the expenditures of 2009. We need to investigate and do better."

For every year the high speed rail project is delayed, the price goes up about $2 to $3 billion.

Nannette Miranda


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