Faster than a high speed train: State au­dit tar­gets soar­ing costs

Ripon Bulletin - - Local / State -

SACRA­MENTO (AP) — Law­mak­ers ap­proved an of­fi­cial au­dit of Cal­i­for­nia’s high-speed rail project Tues­day with the goal of un­der­stand­ing whether the am­bi­tious in­fra­struc­ture plan can be com­pleted on time and with­out more dra­matic cost in­creases.

“What we are all try­ing to do is to get past all of the noise, to get past all of the pol­i­tics, to get down into a thor­ough au­dit that is go­ing to give us a very good heads up as to what is com­ing and what has hap­pened,” said Repub­li­can Assem­bly­man Jim Pat­ter­son of Fresno.

State au­di­tor Elaine Howle said her eval­u­a­tion would take six to nine months. Mean­while, the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity will re­lease a highly an­tic­i­pated bi­en­nial busi­ness plan in Fe­bru­ary or March, which could show­case a sig­nif­i­cant shift in costs or the time­line of the project. It will be the first busi­ness plan un­der new chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Brian Kelly, who most re­cently led the state trans­porta­tion agency.

Pat­ter­son re­quested the au­dit along­side Demo­cratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose. The bul­let train is pro­jected to first con­nect the Cen­tral Val­ley to Sil­i­con Val­ley be­fore even­tu­ally go­ing down to Los An­ge­les. It’s been plagued by de­lays and cost over­runs, with the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity re­cently an­nounc­ing a $3 bil­lion jump in costs in the Cen­tral Val­ley alone.

Repub­li­cans on the com­mit­tee of­fered a more crit­i­cal take of the project and whether it can re­al­is­ti­cally be up and run­ning with­out need­ing state sub­si­dies to op­er­ate. As Democrats backed the au­dit, they high­lighted the project’s ben­e­fits in­clud­ing the roughly 1,500 con­struc­tion jobs it’s created in the Cen­tral Val­ley.

“I look for­ward to the rest of the state re­al­iz­ing the ben­e­fits that are hap­pen­ing in my com­mu­nity,” said Demo­cratic Assem­bly­man Joaquin Aram­bula, who rep­re­sents part of Fresno.

Dan Richard, chair­man of the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity’s board of di­rec­tors, said he wel­comes the trans­parency the au­dit will bring and that the author­ity will im­ple­ment its rec­om­men­da­tions.

“It’s crit­i­cal that the pub­lic main­tain their con­fi­dence in our abil­ity to do this,” he said. “I think the pub­lic con­fi­dence will be sus­tained if they know, well, you’ve done some things well, but these things need to be im­proved and you’re do­ing that.”

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