VISALIA, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The project has ballooned to $77 billion.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address on Tuesday. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction already underway on a segment of the high-speed train through the Central Valley. The project would connect a 119-mile stretch from Merced to Bakersfield.

“I know that some critics are going to say, ‘Well, that’s a train to nowhere.’ But I think that’s wrong and I think that’s offensive,” Newsom said. “It’s about economic transformation. It’s about unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.”

He’s also replacing former Gov. Jerry Brown’s head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.

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More: Newsom attacks Trump in State of the State: California will not be part of ‘political theater’

Assemblyman Devon Mathis has, on many occasions, spoken out against the costly project. This week, he echoed his message to constituents. 

“I feel it’s a little silly to continue this boondoggle of a project to just keep federal funding from returning to President Trump. Now we have a train from Merced to Bakersfield; That was not what was sold to the voters,” Mathis said. “I’d ask for my money back if I was them.”  

The Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station will be located just a few miles from the Tulare County line. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to finish high-speed rail construction that’s already underway on a segment through the Central Valley.

More: Report: Add $1.6 billion to high-speed rail in the Central Valley

More: Gubler says Mathis is ‘ignorant’ and ‘incompetent’ over high-speed rail

The governor hopes the project will revitalize the economically depressed region of the state.

“Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize,” Newsom said. “The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told.”

Newly elected state Senator Melissa Hurtado, who represents Kings County and a portion of Tulare County, is backing the governor’s announcement. 

“I respect the decision by California voters on the high-speed rail. Moreover, I applaud the governor’s effort to bring transparency and accountability to the HSR project,” she said.

High-Speed Rail Authority officials say they also welcome Newsom’s new direction.  

“We are eager to meet this challenge and expand the project’s economic impact in the Central Valley,” said Brian Kelly, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO. “Importantly, he also reaffirmed our commitment to complete the environmental work statewide, to meet our ‘bookend’ investments in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and to pursue additional federal and private funding for future project expansion.”

In December, the authority released 2018 highlights which included the hiring of the 2,000th construction worker in the Central Valley. 

Despite the progress, State Auditor Elaine Howle released a scathing audit on the rail’s overall mismanagement. 

Rushed construction and poor management cost the rail authority $600 million in budget overruns, according to the audit.

The 87-page audit also found that the authority’s decision to start construction in 2013, before it had secured necessary property and utility clearances, contributed to the overruns. 

It could cost another $1.6 billion to complete Central Valley segments alone, Howle’s report found. That would bring the total for the initial track to $10.6 billion, about 75 percent higher than the original $6 billion estimate.

Newsom has laid out his vision for California twice already, in his inaugural address and through his first crack at the state budget. He spent his first month in office traveling to different parts of the state promoting his ideas on housing, juvenile justice and the environment.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

 

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: California governor abandons $77 billion high-speed train between LA and San Francisco



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