This story was reprinted with permission from Government Technology.
A report released Tuesday, Jan. 3, by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group threatens to permanently derail plans for a network of 200 mph trains in the Golden State.
The group, which exists by state law and was directed by the California State Legislature to conduct the report, concluded that “moving ahead on the [High-Speed Rail] project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the state, and without appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California.” [Read the HSRA Peer Review Report here.]
Presently the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) intends to use $9 billion in voter-approved bonds — as well as $3.5 billion in promised federal funding — to construct an initial 130-mile segment of the railway between the cities of Chowchilla and Bakersfield in the state’s Central Valley. However, with that 2008 bond vote came the requirement for the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group to green-light the feasibility of CHSRA’s plan prior to the State Legislature issuing bonds.
The group, headed by former CalTrans director and current Orange County Transportation Authority chief Will Kempton, advised via the report that the state Legislature shouldn’t fund the increasingly-criticized project.
The CHSRA authority immediately responded, saying that “while some of the recommendations in the Peer Review Group report merit consideration, by and large this report is deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded.”
The CHSRA contends the report includes “egregious errors and unsupported assertions” that “would have been avoided with even minimal consultation with the CHSRA.” [Read the CHSRA response to the report here.]
The report nonetheless likely deals a serious blow to Gov. Jerry Brown’s support of high-speed rail in California. Brown said as recently as late December he intends to ask the state Legislature to issue bonds. Yet the governor’s spokesman, Gil Duran, waved off suggestions that the reports put a stop to the rail plan.
“The peer review report will be evaluated by the Legislature, but it does not appear to add any arguments that are new or compelling enough to suggest a change in course,” Duran said, according the San Francisco Chronicle.
In his 2012-13 budget proposal released Thursday, Brown proposed a new state agency – The Transportation Agency — which would include the High-Speed Rail Authority, the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Highway Patrol, the California Transportation Commission, and the Board of Pilot Commissioners.