Jerry Brown’s High-Speed Rail Costs Under Scrutiny

Brown at High-Speed Rail Groundbreaking (AP)
AP / Gary Kazanjian

Both Democratic and Republican members of the California State Assembly Transportation Committee discussed the financial risks and the estimated $64 billion dollar price tag for Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy-defining high-speed rail system in nearly three hours of discussions in Sacramento on Monday, focusing on concerns as to where the funding for the massive project will be found.

Representatives of the California High-Speed Rail Authority addressed their questions and concerns.

“Some of us have a lot of concerns,” Assemblywoman Young O. Kim (R-Fullerton) said, according to the Fresno Bee. “But since we’re moving forward, we want to make sure that funding will be available.”

A revision in the proposed 2014 version of the plan reportedly makes a pivot in the rail’s direction so that instead of running trains between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles by 2022, it will run between the Valley and San Jose in the year 2025.

The proposed shift is reportedly estimated to save the state approximately $10 billion that would have made the final cost closer to $74 billion. However, the cost of the project overall is quite perplexing, as it is heavily reliant on several sources of money that may not be available in a few short years.

As the Bee points out, a continuous stream of $600 million annually from cap-and-trade revenues (money which is raised through the auctioning off of emissions credits to companies seen as the state’s biggest polluters) is in limbo as the program might not continue beyond 2020.

Additionally, more than half of $21 billion the authority estimates is needed for its 239-mile northern initial operating segment, traveling from Shafter to San Jose, is not yet secured.

In January of this year, the Hoover Institution Golden State Poll found that a majority of likely California voters would vote in favor of an upcoming ballot measure that would strip funding from the high-speed rail project and divert it toward new water storage projects instead, as California’s crippling drought problems continue, despite El Niño rains.

The poll found that 53% of likely California voters would prefer to reallocate the billions of so far unspent bond money from Gov. Brown’s high-speed rail to funding the construction of new surface and groundwater storage units. Only 31% of likely voters said they would not.

California residents also have another option: the state’s low-speed rail, which gets the job done just as well at a fraction of the price, albeit somewhat more slowly.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.