Gov. Gavin Newsom used his first State of the State speech on Tuesday to put the San Francisco-Los Angeles route of the delayed high-speed rail project on the back burner.
Newsom called for rail planners to instead focus on connecting the Central Valley, the only section is he sure can be achieved in a timely manner and in a region that is “more dynamic than people realize.” While isn’t calling off the whole high-speed rail, he expressed a need for more oversight and transparency.
“The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long,” Newsom said in his speech. Still, he added, “Abandoning the high-speed rail means we will have wasted billions and billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises, partially-fulfilled commitments and lawsuits to show for it.”
However long it takes for San Francisco and Los Angeles to be a priority once again, it’s sure to throw off several transportation projects centered around the high-speed rail. The city is just now digesting how it will impact Caltrain’s downtown extension and electrification meant to reach the Salesforce Transit Center along with the high-speed rail, the Examiner reported.
Voters first approved a $10 billion bond in 2008, under the Schwarzenegger administration. The project’s estimated cost is now more than $77 billion, more than double the initial estimate, and has been delayed time and again. The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2018 business plan extended the project’s completion another four years to 2033 with a simple $30 billion funding shortfall.
As Newsom indicated, throwing in the towel would open up more problems. California would also be forced to refund $3.5 billion to the federal government. Sen. Scott Wiener pushed back on media reports that Newsom killed the high-speed rail altogether and insisted the project would include the Bay Area.
“He made clear that high-speed rail is going to happen—period—and that we need to be smart and efficient in delivering this project that is so critical to our state’s economy, environment, and quality of life,” Weiner said in a statement. “The Bay Area and Los Angeles must be – and will be—part of California’s high-speed rail network.”
Newsom also said that there “simply isn’t a path” that connects the northern and southern regions. He also announced Lenny Mendonca, his economic development director, would chair the High-Speed Rail Authority, to lead the way.
“The project can still be achieved,” Newsom told reporters after the speech. “Let us be honest about the trade-off and let us be honest about the cost.”
UPDATE, Wednesday 5:50 p.m.: President Donald Trump responded to Newsom’s call to focus on the Central Valley with a tweet demanding that California return the $3.5 billion to the federal government.
“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars.” Trump tweeted at 5:29 p.m. “We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”
Newsom has not yet issued a public response.
UPDATE, Thursday 1:10 p.m.: In a tweet response Wednesday evening, Newsom refuted that the project has been abandoned and that California would not be returning the federal funds.
“The train is leaving the station — better get on board!” Newsom tweeted. “Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??”