SACRAMENTO, Calif (AP) – The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Wednesday bumped its overall cost estimate for completing the rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles to $80.3 billion, blaming inflationary increases and better cost projections for a $1.3 billion boost that still is smaller than in previous years.
After years of embarrassing cost overruns and delays, managers of California’s ambitious bullet-train project insisted that they are on pace to meet a preliminary 2022 federal deadline for laying track along the first segment in the Central Valley.
The authority’s latest business plan comes amid pressure from state lawmakers, some of whom want to peel off more of the money to help commuters in the state’s population centers. The 168-page report attempts to counter those critics by emphasizing the $3 billion already going to so-called “bookend” projects in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.
The cost increase is mainly because the plan pushes back the completion of a high-speed rail link between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 18 months, to late 2031.
The increase in the projected baseline cost is smaller than previous jumps, with Kelly calling it ”virtually unchanged” and within the ranges of recent previous estimates. The 2016 business plan estimated the project would cost $64 billion. The authority raised that to $77 billion in the 2018 business plan and added $2 billion to the estimate just last year.
The new plan continues to project that the entire San Francisco to Los Angeles route will be running by 2033 — a quarter-century after California voters first approved it — “assuming funding is available when needed.”
The draft business plan, which is released every two years, projects that managers can meet the more urgent federal deadline in two years.
By then the state must have 119 miles (192 kilometers) completed, with track on the ground. It must also have environmental clearance for all 520 miles (837 kilometers) to meet its deadline to use $3.5 billion that the state won under the Obama administration to build an initial segment of track in the Central Valley.
California is suing to block the Trump administration from withdrawing a $929 million grant for the project on the grounds that the state isn’t making enough progress toward the deadline.
Beyond that, the plan calls for expanding to 171 miles (275 kilometers) connecting Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield, which it calls “three of the fastest growing areas in California.” It calls for testing electrified high-speed trains by 2025 and put those trains in service by 2028-29. From Merced, passengers could connect to existing rail services to the San Francisco Bay Area, but those heading to Los Angeles would have to take a bus.
The final plan will be sent to state lawmakers by May, after public comments and legislative hearings.
The currently projected available funds are only about a quarter of what’s needed to complete the full project.