One of the more sensitive tasks newly elected California governor Gavin Newsom must execute is to place his own stamp on a state budget and agenda after serving as lieutenant governor for eight years in partnership with the very strong-willed Jerry Brown. It’s not surprising that one of Brown’s most controversial pet projects, a vastly over-budget, behind schedule, and not terribly popular high-speed rail plan to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, is among the items Newsom might reconsider. But it is surprising he pulled the plug on the project so quickly, in his first State of the State address, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his State of the State speech Tuesday that he intends to scale back California’s $77-billion high-speed rail system, saying that while the state has “the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield … there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A….”
“Let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” Newsom said. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
The latest projections were that the train line would cost $77 billion and wouldn’t be completed until 2033. It has aroused all kinds of opposition on fiscal and environmental grounds, though bonds to help pay for it were endorsed by voters back in 2008.
Going ahead with the Bakersfield-Merced stretch through the Central Valley makes some sense. Construction has already begun on various portions of the line between Bakersfield and Madera, which is just 33 miles from Merced. It’s an area that could use the economic stimulus. And perhaps most importantly, finishing that portion of the line could preserve the $3.5 billion federal grant the state got in 2009 as part of the Obama stimulus program.
Rail aficionados and those who hoped this project would take many cars off the roads won’t be happy; nor will anyone who imagined zipping between San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours. But this was one Brown legacy project that seemed constantly to recede into the future. Now its future has been curtailed.