The political wrangling has finally ended, and the last $4.2 billion in the state's high-speed rail bond funding is being spent on the rail system in the newly approved state budget.
Yes, you can still derisively call it a train to nowhere, but residents of the Central Valley should be glad to know that in about eight years, theoretically, there will be high-speed train service on a 171-mile portion of the larger project, connecting Bakersfield to Merced. Governor Gavin Newsom said when he took office that, as a state, we had to focus on finishing this phase first, and hopefully funds for the complicated connection between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, and the also complex San Jose-to-Merced route, will materialize in the coming years.
"We’re thrilled that California’s political leaders are ratifying the will of the voters by advancing funding for the state’s high-speed rail project," said Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Rail Passengers Association in Washington D.C., in a statement. "Now, we’re calling on those same leaders, in partnership with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, to accelerate construction on this corridor."
Additionally, as Bay Area News Group reports, there is another $3.65 billion in the budget for other rail infrastructure projects, which could include funds for the BART connection to San Jose.
The new budget also provides funds to create a new independent inspector general’s office in charge of auditing the high-speed rail project. A legislative committee will be nominating a list of candidates for the role, and Newsom will get to appoint someone to the job from that list.
The cost of the high-speed rail project has ballooned over the decade and a half since voters first approved it — from $45 billion to $113 billion, and this only includes the LA to SF route, and not planned extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. Inflation and other cost-overruns continue to threaten later phases of the project.
The now 26-year-old California High-Speed Rail Authority just signed off on the 90-mile connection plan between Merced and San Jose in April, with a hopeful completion date of 2031. As of March, the cost estimate for this leg of the project was up to $19 billion, with the biggest driver of that cost being a 13.5-mile tunnel that will need to be constructed under Pacheco Pass.
Service on the rail line expected to begin in segments, maybe in the next four or five years. It's not clear when construction on the northern and southern legs of the line will begin.
The 171-mile Central Valley section that's been under construction since 2015 involves 35 different work sites, and this latest budget funding means that this leg will begin to see tracks installed and trains being purchased sometime soon.