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Governor: Construction On Calif. High Speed Rail To Begin In 2012

An artist's rendering of the high-speed rail.

Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority

Above: An artist's rendering of the high-speed rail.

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Gov. Jerry Brown puts a big push behind the state's troubled High Speed Rail project. In his State of the State speech, Brown put his full support behind the plan to build a high speed rail system in California, and he urged the legislature to get on board.

But the many critics of the project point to the growing price tag and risky financing as a reason to pull the plug on the idea. We'll talk to Tom Umberg, board chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority. View and interactive map here.

Brown Moves To Revamp CA High-Speed Rail Project by Juliet Williams, Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that his appointees to the board overseeing California's embattled $98 billion high-speed rail project will fix its problems and offer a revamped business plan after the rail authority's director and its board chairman resigned a day earlier.

The Democratic governor told reporters in Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, that he will not join the "defeatist crowd" that believes the project is impossible.

"We're going to build, but we're not going to be stupid. And we'll listen to the critics, and we'll fix things and we'll do the right thing," Brown said. "We're not going to go overboard. We're going to be very careful and build incrementally as we go."

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The voter-approved plan to build a high-speed rail line linking the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas has faced mounting criticism since it was revealed that its total costs have more than doubled and the state has no stable funding source.

Lawmakers from both parties have raised serious questions about the plan to start construction in September on the first segment in the Central Valley, in part because the line would not connect major population centers.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted a new business plan to the Legislature last month that boosted the estimated price tag for the entire system linking Anaheim to San Francisco from $43 billion to $98 billion and moved the completion date from 2020 to 2034.

The authority needs legislative approval to start building the initial stretch of track in the Central Valley.

California's legislative analyst and an independent peer review panel have also questioned the project's viability. At the same time, public opinion polls have shown voter support waning.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has introduced legislation that would effectively kill the project. During a news conference this week, Harkey said it could double California's debt and become a drain on the budget.

"California does not need a shiny new heavily subsidized toy with no confirmed ridership when we have real shovel-ready infrastructure jobs in every community awaiting funding," she said in a news release.

The authority's chief executive, Roelof van Ark, and its board chairman, Tom Umberg, announced their departures Thursday. Dan Richard, one of two people Brown appointed to the rail board last summer, is expected to take over. Richard spent 12 years on the board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

When asked if the shuffle signals his intent to revamp the entire project so it is more palatable to the public, Brown said only that he is "putting my own stamp on state government, slowly but surely."

California voters approved $9 billion in bonds for the high-speed rail project in 2008, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. In December, a Field Poll found that voters now would reject the rail bonds by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Brown said he is not one of the many people who want to "turn off the lights" in California.

"We will make mistakes, but we'll correct them and we'll learn as we go along," he said. "We've got to think big and not kind of shrink back in some kind of Lilliputian anxiety because the world isn't quite as comfortable as we might like."

The authority is asking lawmakers to approve selling $2.7 billion of the voter-approved state bonds to match $3.5 billion in federal money that would be used to build 130 miles of track between Chowchilla and Bakersfield.

The report by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group said the state should not authorize the bonds.


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