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California Bullet Train Project: Costs Up, Completion Date Uncertain
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California Bullet Train Project: Costs Up, Completion Date Uncertain 

The California High Speed Rail project, which is intended to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, is facing additional cost increases and potential delays, according to a recent update from project leaders. High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) officials were unable to provide an estimated completion date for the original project, but said the total cost of the project has now risen to $128 billion, a 13% increase from last year’s projections. Construction is currently underway on a 170-mile stretch of the project in the Central Valley, between Bakersfield and Merced. Project officials last year estimated that the route would be ready for riders in 2030. However, the latest update shows service could begin sometime between 2030 and 2033.

The Central Valley segment of the project is also facing a 41% increase in costs compared to last year’s estimates, now expected to cost up to $35.3 billion. Part of the scoping plan changed between this year and last, with this year’s estimate including light maintenance facilities and new elements for the station in Bakersfield. Project leaders also pointed to the impacts of COVID-19, inflation and supply chain issues that have raised the prices of labor, concrete, and steel.

The Los Angeles to San Francisco project was originally estimated to cost $33 billion and begin operating in 2020. Voters approved $9 billion for the project in 2008. The bullet train will need additional funding to complete the Bakersfield to Merced line. In the short term, the HSRA is relying on a potential $8 billion grant from the federal government as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure law.

According to Micah Flores, a spokesman for the project, “additional federal investment is really needed in this transformative project in order to realize its promise to California.” Flores also noted updated ridership numbers project there could be about 6 million passengers for that section of the line. The project has already created 10,000 jobs in the Central Valley, including 4,000 created in the last four years.

Although there is no exact timeline for the completion of the full project between Los Angeles to San Francisco, project leaders noted that the environmental review process for 422 of the 500-mile route has been completed. The two final routes requiring environmental reviews include Palmdale to Burbank and Los Angeles to Anaheim.

However, a note from HSRA CEO Brian Kelly in the report indicated that the project does not have any ongoing, dedicated funding beyond 2030. “More than anything, the project needs stabilized, long-term funding. We have been engaged with our federal partners about this challenge, and we believe that we have a strong strategy to be successful at the federal level,” Kelly wrote. “At home, we need an answer on how this project will be funded after 2030. Megaprojects that last for decades need long-term, stable funding. Every country around the world that has built high-speed rail has dedicated billions of dollars over several decades to see it through.”

Daniel Lopez, the deputy communications director for Gov. Gavin Newsom, said that this project, like many others, is facing increased costs related to inflation. “Additionally, the scope of the project has increased, as agreed to with our local and legislative stakeholders. Both of these factors have led to higher costs,” Lopez said. “While this news is difficult, overall, the state continues to make significant strides in building the only electrified, 200+ mph, high-speed rail project, in the nation.”

The latest update has invited criticism from lawmakers as the state faces a potential $22.5 billion budget shortfall this year. Some have referred to the bullet train as the “Hot Mess Express.”

Despite these challenges, the California High-Speed Rail Project has the potential to bring significant benefits to the state. Supporters argue that the high-speed rail will provide a more sustainable mode of transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The project is also expected to create jobs, spur economic development, and connect communities.

The Central Valley segment of the project, where construction is currently focused, has already created thousands of jobs in the region. The project has also been a catalyst for development, with plans for new transit-oriented developments around stations in the cities of Fresno and Merced.

Proponents of the project argue that it will connect regions of the state that have been historically underserved by transportation options, providing greater access to employment and education opportunities. They also point to the success of high-speed rail systems in other countries, such as Japan, France, and China.

However, critics argue that the project is too costly and that there is not enough demand for high-speed rail in California. They also contend that the project has been plagued by mismanagement and cost overruns, with estimates for the total cost of the project ballooning over the years.

In light of these challenges, the future of the California High-Speed Rail Project remains uncertain. It is unclear whether the project will be able to secure the funding it needs to complete the Los Angeles to San Francisco route. The project is also facing significant political opposition, with some lawmakers calling for an end to the project.

Despite these challenges, the California High-Speed Rail Project remains an ambitious and potentially transformative project for the state. As the project moves forward, it will be important to address the challenges it faces and ensure that the project stays on track to deliver the promised benefits to Californians.

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