December 6, 2022
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How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails

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Fourteen years later, construction is now underway on part of a 171-mile “starter” line connecting a few cities in the middle of California, which has been promised for 2030. But few expect it to make that goal.

Meanwhile, costs have continued to escalate. When the California High-Speed Rail Authority issued its new 2022 draft business plan in February, it estimated an ultimate cost as high as $105 billion. Less than three months later, the “final plan” raised the estimate to $113 billion.

The rail authority said it has accelerated the pace of construction on the starter system, but at the current spending rate of $1.8 million a day, according to projections widely used by engineers and project managers, the train could not be completed in this century.

“We would make some different decisions today,” said Tom Richards, a developer from the Central Valley city of Fresno who now chairs the authority. He said project executives have managed to work through the challenges and have a plan that will, for the first time, connect 85 percent of California’s residents with a fast, efficient rail system. “I think it will be successful,” he said.

But there are growing doubts among key Democratic leaders in the Legislature — historically the bullet train’s base of support — and from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been cautious about committing new state financing. As of now, there is no identified source of funding for the $100 billion it will take to extend the rail project from the Central Valley to its original goals, Los Angeles and San Francisco, in part because lawmakers, no longer convinced of the bullet train’s viability, have pushed to divert additional funding to regional rail projects.

“There is nothing but problems on the project,” the speaker of the State Assembly, Anthony Rendon, complained recently.

The Times’s review, though, revealed that political deals created serious obstacles in the project from the beginning. Speaking candidly on the subject for the first time, some of the high-speed rail authority’s past leaders say the project may never work.



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