With construction under way on 119 miles of its route through the central and southern San Joaquin Valley, the California High-Speed Rail Authority continued Wednesday to try to make the case for completing development of an electrified bullet-train line between Merced and Bakersfield as an interim step toward connecting the Valley to San Jose.
The agency released a draft version of its 2020 business plan, a document it is required to submit to the California Legislature every other year. It highlights the authority’s determination to expand the current construction boundaries – from north of Madera to north of Bakersfield – by about 52 miles total into downtown Merced and downtown Bakersfield.
Wednesday’s release of the draft plan marks the start of a two-month public comment period before a final version is adopted by the rail authority’s board of directors.
Merced-to-Bakersfield is being promoted by the rail authority to be its first operational segment by 2028-2029. Between its three current construction contracts and the one it plalns to make later this year for installation of tracks and electrical systems, the agency expects to spend a total of $12.4 billion. Extending the line from 119 miles to 171 is expected to add another $4.8 billion to the costs in the Valley, including an estimated $700 million to buy the line’s first electric trains.
“We’re moving. I mean, this is happening, and the 2020 business plan should really reflect the fact that this transformation is well underway,” said Brian Kelly, the rail authority’s CEO.
“Our budget is sufficient enough to advance the mission the voters gave us when they passed Proposition 1A and to continue to make important investments in all three regions of the state,” Kelly wrote in a letter introducing the business plan. Thus far, in addition to work in the Valley, Kelly said the authority has committed about $2.9 billion to rail and infrastructure improvements on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Los Angeles Basin to pave the way for a statewide bullet-train line connecting the Bay Area and Southern California.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, was not impressed by the report. “The 2020 business plan is yet another make-believe document, like all the others before it.,” said Patterson, who has long been critical of the rail authority’s efforts. “The project is falling apart, and the costs continue to climb.
“The Authority continues to hope billions will magically appear, while the fight to siphon off Central Valley dollars for Southern California rages on,” Patterson added. “It’s become a pathetic fight for the scraps of a failing project.”
FOCUS ON BAY AREA, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA?
The business plan’s release comes as some legislators advocate that some of the money planned to extend and electrify tracks in the Valley would be better spent in other rail improvements in the Bay Area and Southern California. Several analyses outlined in the business plan, however, suggest that California would get the biggest bang for its bucks from completing the Merced-to-Bakersfield segment as outlined by Gov. Gavin Newsom in his 2019 State of the State address.
A comparison prepared by DB International – an engineering/consulting firm selected to be the rail authority’s early train operator – of rail corridors in the Bay Area, Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley indicates that the Valley offers:
▪ A greater increase in train ridership and ridership revenue than the Bay Area or Southern California.
▪ A greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than the other two areas.
▪ A longer rail corridor and higher maximum train speed than either the San Francisco Peninsula or Burbank-to-Anaheim segments.
The plan estimates that a 287-mile “Valley to Valley” line connecting the San Joaquin Valley and Silicon Valley and coursing between San Jose and Bakersfield would cost about $33 billion, not counting the price of trains. But the plan notes that the agency doesn’t have the money to complete such an effort.
For a full Phase 1 system between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim, contemplated when the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure Proposition 1A was approved by California voters in 2008, the new business plan estimates a cost of almost $75 billion.
Both the Valley-to-Valley and full Phase 1 estimates, however, reflect considerable uncertainty not only because there’s no money now to fulfill either vision, but also because of the still-to-be determined costs of boring through Pacheco Pass to the Bay Area and through the San Gabriel Mountains between Palmdale and Burbank.
Source-Merced Sun Star