California governor scales back high-speed rail project

Gavin Newsom

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his first State of the State address on Tuesday a shift in focus of the state’s controversial and costly high-speed rail project from linking San Francisco to Los Angeles to constructing a rail line from Bakersfield to Merced. 

Yet, Newsom has also announced his intention to expand the high-speed rail beyond the Central Valley. As a result, the new California governor’s remarks have prompted debate as to whether the project of creating a Northern California-Southern California rail link is alive or dead. 

“Let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much, and take too long,” Newsom said in his State of the State address. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”

But in a series of tweets posted Tuesday, Newsom also indicated support for the entirety of the project. 

“We will continue our regional projects north and south,” Newsom stated in a tweet. “Connect the Central Valley to other parts of the state.”

The governor also argued against walking away from the rail line.

“For those who want to walk away: abandoning high-speed rail means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it,” Newsom said in a tweet. “I’m not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding — exclusively allocated for (high-speed rail) — back to the White House.”

Newsom additionally tweeted that the proposed rail line is “so much more than a train project” and that it can revitalize communities across the state.

The initial high-speed rail project called for linking San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as eventually Sacramento and San Diego. Recent estimates priced the project at about $77 billion.

In 2008, California voters approved a $9 billion bond measure for the project, and in 2015, workers broke ground on the rail line in the Central Valley. Yet, the project has been delayed by problems with securing funding, acquiring privately held land and fighting legal challenges. 

Newsom’s announcement about scaling back the project comes at a time congressional Democrats are calling for a Green New Deal that envisions building high-speed rail lines across the country. Critics of the project and the proposed Green New Deal have seized on the timing to argue that the a high-speed rail network spanning the United States is not viable.

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