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Lawmakers To Discuss Future Of California High-Speed Rail

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

In this Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, a full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press

(AP) — California lawmakers will discuss the future of high-speed rail Tuesday and seek answers from the Newsom administration about the governor's vision for the long-delayed project.

The Senate Transportation Committee's oversight hearing will be lawmakers' first public discussion on the project since Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested changes last month.

California voters approved nearly $10 billion in bond money in 2008 to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The total cost now stands at $77 billion with a completion date of 2033. The state does not have nearly enough money to complete the project.

Newsom in his state of state speech said there wasn't a path for the project as planned and said he will instead focus immediately on completing and expanding a line through the Central Valley, adding about 50 miles of track to a line already under construction.

He also said he'd continue environmental work on the full line and has since said he is committed to a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

A background paper put together by Senate staff says Newsom's comments left people "perplexed" about his plans. His administration has not provided any additional details, including how much his new plan will cost, according to the paper.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will lay out more details about Newsom's plan in a May 1 report.

Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who heads the transportation committee, said lawmakers want to be proactive in discussing the project's future instead of waiting for Newsom's administration to offer more clarity. "We can't be passive," he said.

Despite the confusion, the state sold $600 million in bonds for the rail project Tuesday, state Treasurer Fiona Ma announced. Wells Fargo and Jeffries LLC bought the bonds.

Set to testify are Lenny Mendonca, Newsom's appointee to head the board that oversees the rail project; the head of the project's peer review group; the state auditor; and the legislative analyst's office.

The Senate background briefing outlines the project's challenges, including the risk of losing roughly $3.5 billion in federal money that the Trump administration has threatened to rescind or withdraw. The state has spent about $2.5 billion and is waiting for about $929 million more.

A roughly 119-mile segment of track in the Central Valley must be completed by 2022 to keep that money, and environmental reviews on the entire line must be finished. The Senate paper says the rail authority will have to work twice as fast as it has been to meet the deadline.

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