The price tag for the proposed high speed rail system in California has just taking a major cut, with a price chop of $30 billion. The latest budget projection comes in with last-minute design changes that propose using existing track in the urban regions of the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The reduction comes as a response to the serious sticker shock experienced from the original plan’s budget, which rang in at $98 billion dollars, 5 months ago. However, Governor Jerry Brown is hoping that the new cost estimates will put the project back on its legislative tracks.
Thirty years in planning, the high speed rail is a proposal to relieve California’s bloated highways and airports with a clean and speedy alternative. The system will stretch from San Diego to San Francisco and on to Sacramento, and will make up the largest construction project in the state’s history. When the cost estimates started pushing close to $100 billion mark, political backing dried up and the planners had to go back to the drawing board.
The two major changes that cut the bill by nearly 1/3 is the use of existing rail lines on the San Francisco peninsula and in Los Angeles, thus reducing capital cost in land acquisition, and changing where the construction starts in the Central Valley, bypassing some small communities. Even with a sharply reduced $68 billion price tag, the project is still having to push uphill in an age of austerity.
Other questions that need to be answered are how do the proposed changes affect commuter time and why was this not part of the original proposal? If the system does get the nod, it will set the stage for the next generation of clean transportation in the US — something many other nations have benefited from for years.