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California’s Bullet Train Cost Spikes 20 Percent

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

This photo, taken Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, shows one of the elevated sections of the high-speed rail under construction in Fresno, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California’s contentious bullet train project will cost $77 billion, a 20 percent spike from estimates two years ago, according to a report released on Friday.

The state’s High-Speed Rail Authority revealed the price tag and a delayed timeline in a biennial project update. The 800-mile Los Angeles-to-San Francisco network is now scheduled to open in 2033, four years later than expected.

Republican state lawmakers and taxpayer advocates seized on the report. Some said it’s time to stop funding the rail project, which was approved by voters in 2008 but has experienced repeated cost overruns and delays.

“Every dollar spent on the high-speed rail project at this point is a wasted transportation dollar. Everything that they’ve promised about the high-speed rail project has turned out to be absolutely untrue,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told Capital Public Radio.

Brian Kelly, the rail authority’s new CEO, blamed the cost spike on inflation and more expensive land purchases in the Central Valley.

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Kelly acknowledged the state will need federal and private funding to complete the full system. The rail authority is focused on an initial connection from San Francisco to Bakersfield, but does not have funding to extend the project to Southern California.

Dan Richard, chairman of the rail authority’s board of directors, said the lack of funding is a major problem. But convincing the public to have a bold vision for the future, he told reporters on the conference call, is more important.

“Our biggest challenge is imagination. Most Americans have not ridden high-speed rail,” Richard said. “When we get 200-mile-an-hour trains connecting even half the state, and two regions, the Central Valley which has been underinvested and the Silicon Valley, which is bursting at the seams, I just think everything’s going to change. And I really truly believe it’s not just going to change in California, but across America.”

Coupal said California should use its “imagination for projects that [are] viable.” He added that new technology could make the bullet train obsolete if and when it’s ever built.

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