California Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed during his State of the State address on Tuesday that he plans to scale back the state’s ambitious and controversial high-speed rail project for the time being.
The expensive project, which would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours, has been stalled since construction started in 2015 under then-Gov. Jerry Brown, after construction costs doubled initial projections, private investment never materialized and public opinion on the project turned sour.
I have nothing but respect for Gov. Brown’s and Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger’s ambitious vision,” Newsom (D) said Tuesday. “I share it. And there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation. But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
Instead, Newsom said he will focus on completing the high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield, a drive that can take up to three hours. He made that plan clear during his gubernatorial campaign last year.
“I know that some critics will say this is a train to nowhere,” he continued, “but that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America, as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.”
He’s not wrong. California’s Central Valley is growing faster than the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles in population, and job growth is about on par with those urban regions, where housing prices have shot up astronomically in recent years.
Newsom said he’ll continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars to fund the project Brown envisioned, but first he wants to “just get something done.”
He said he is not thinking of scrapping the project, as some reports extrapolated from his address.
“Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it,” Newsom said. “And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump.”
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