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Court To Again Weigh Fate Of California High-Speed Rail Project

California High-Speed Rail Authority / Facebook

Demolition work takes place in 2014 on a property whose land will be used for California's high-speed rail project.

California High-Speed Rail Authority / Facebook

California’s high-speed rail project will be back in court Wednesday – with the return of a legal challenge that threatens a crucial funding source.

When California voters approved a $10 billion high-speed rail bond under Proposition 1A in 2008, they set a slew of conditions before the bond funds could be spent; these included maximum travel times and approval of all the state’s environmental reviews.

Project opponents sued, arguing the state’s proposal does not meet those requirements. But a judge ruled that challenge was premature.

The state is now ready to spend the first couple billion dollars in bond funds on a regional commuter rail project in the Bay Area that would eventually carry high-speed trains once the system is fully operational. Plaintiffs’ attorney Stuart Flashman says that violates Proposition 1A.

“When the ballot measure says, ‘suitable and ready for high-speed train operation, that’s pretty clear,’ ” Flashman says. “And to say, well, it’ll be suitable and ready for high-speed train operation sometime later after we do some more work, that’s not what the voters voted for.”

Plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order to block the California High-Speed Rail Authority from using the money until a court can rule on whether spending it would violate Proposition 1A.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority declined to comment on the new lawsuit but criticized the plaintiffs for filing the suit. “These are the same litigants who tied things up in the courts for the last five or so years,” says spokeswoman Annie Parker. “With their only results being the courts agreeing that we were following the law and the cost to taxpayers of their delay tactics.”

Also at stake is the constitutionality of a law that passed last year that the Authority says allows it to spend Proposition 1A funds on commuter rail projects.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio