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Legal Challenge Could Freeze Billions In Funds For California's Bullet Train

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr

The future of California's high speed rail project may now rest with a Sacramento judge.

Oral arguments wrapped up Thursday in a case that says the project has strayed from what voters approved for the rail network in 2008 under Proposition 1A.

Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing Central Valley landowners who filed suit against the project, said he wants to see the project halted.

"Hopefully what (Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny) is going to say is: ‘You know what, you can't keep going with this project. This project is not what the voters approved. You've got to stop construction until you do something that complies with what the voters approved,’” Flashman told Capital Public Radio outside the courtroom.

Inside, Sharon O’Grady, an attorney representing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, dismissed Flashman’s claims as meritless. She said the $68 billion rail plan has been thoroughly vetted and will deliver what was promised to voters.

“All they are doing is disagreeing with our experts,” O’Grady told the judge. “All this is is speculating and second guessing what the experts have already done.”

Voters in 2008 authorized nearly $10 billion in bond funds to jump start a rail network that would connect the state’s major urban centers with trains whisking passengers at 200 miles per hour.

Rising cost estimates and delayed construction timelines have caused many Californians to question the undertaking, which is considered one of the largest public works projects in the state’s history.

Following the court hearing, rail authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley defended the project. She said it’s already created hundreds of jobs and provided millions in contracts for small businesses in the Central Valley.

"This is really the opponent’s way to try to delay the project, which will ultimately cost the taxpayers more dollars,” Alley said.

At issue in the case is the rail plan's financial viability, and whether trains can truly run from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and forty minutes or less. That's what Proposition 1A promised.

The judge is expected to rule in the case in the next 90 days.

A ruling against the authority could freeze billions of dollars in Proposition 1A construction money, said Lou Thompson, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group.

The group offers independent oversight of the project through reports to the Legislature.

"It could slow the project down significantly," Thompson added.


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