California’s long-planned high-speed rail project intended to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco has been delayed by more cost overruns and potential delays, project managers said in an update released this week.
Officials from the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) estimated the total cost of the project to range from $88.5 billion to nearly $128 billion, a 13 percent increase from last year’s projections. In an update released March 1, officials also predicted fewer riders on a 500-mile rail system in southern California.
“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global supply chains and the resulting market volatility and inflation have affected prices for construction products such as concrete and steel as well as labor,” CHSRA’s CEO wrote in the report. Brian Kelly.
“Major infrastructure projects around the world have felt the impact of this market volatility. We are not immune,” Kelly added.
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As of March 1, 422 miles of the full 500-mile system have been environmentally cleared, according to the authority. Currently, construction is focused on a 119-mile section in the Central Valley, which was previously estimated to be operational in 2030. Now, the authority predicts that rail service could begin sometime between 2030 and 2033.
The report shows the Central Valley section will cost up to $35.3 billion, a 38 percent increase from the previous estimate of $25.7 billion. The cost increase reflects scope changes, including extending the rail line to “preferred downtown station locations” in Merced and Bakersfield, station overhauls, construction of light maintenance facilities and other items. Authorities also said the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation, supply chain issues and other market problems have driven up costs.
It’s a far cry from what California officials promised voters when the project was put to a referendum in 2008. At the time, officials said the entire project would cost $33 billion and be completed by 2020. Voters initially approved 9 billion dollars to fund the rail system in 2008.
Now, officials say additional federal funds will be needed to complete the project. CHSRA is seeking $8 billion in federal grants from the Department of Transportation under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
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“It is clear that significant additional federal funding is needed to complete the Merced to Bakersfield line,” the report states.
At the same time, a new CHSRA ridership forecast model predicts ridership will decline by as much as 25 percent from previous projections as California’s population and employment growth have leveled off in recent years.
However, the authority maintains that high-speed rail ridership on the Merced to Bakersfield segment will nearly double current ridership, even with lower projections for population and job growth.
Regardless of these assurances, state Republican lawmakers decried the report, deriding the project as a “hot mess express.”
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“Recent estimates show that high-speed rail will cost $206.4 million per mile. What is that, made of gold? We already know the whole project has failed since we dreamed it up more than 15 years ago,” the Republican said. state Minority Leader Brian Jones said in a statement. “California is dealing with a budget deficit, and we have much more pressing issues that require our attention – like tackling crime, reducing costs, addressing homelessness and investing in students.”
“The broken promises on this project are breaking the bank for Californians. It’s time to put the brakes on the hot mess express and defund high-speed rail,” Jones added.
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A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom told local station KCRA that he attributed the higher cost to inflation and deals between lawmakers and local stakeholders to expand the project’s scope.
“While this news is difficult, overall, the state continues to make significant strides in building the nation’s only electrified, 200+ mph, high-speed rail project,” the spokesman said.