12 MAR 2018: The projected cost of California's bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles has jumped to US $77 billion and the completion date has been pushed back four years to 2033, according to a business plan released Friday.  

The plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority presents the latest setbacks for a project that's been beleaguered by delays and cost overruns since voters first gave it the greenlight in 2008.

It focuses almost entirely on first opening track between San Francisco and the inland Central Valley, a goal the state is still billions of dollars short of financing.

“You cannot build a mega-project of this magnitude on a pay-as-you-go basis,” Brian Kelly, the project's new chief executive, told reporters Friday.

The plan calls for a fresh infusion of cash from the Legislature and private money to cover the costs of weaving tunnels through mountain passes between the Silicon and Central Valleys.

At present, the project doesn't have enough money for the tunnels. But rail executives want them completed by 2029.

If completed, it would be the nation's fastest train, carrying people between Northern and Southern California in less than three hours.

Officials hope connecting the San Francisco Bay Area, where rental and living costs are skyrocketing, to the more economically challenged and sparsely populated Central Valley, will provide an economic boost that will help shore up public and private support before the project continues south to Los Angeles and Anaheim.

While $77 billion is the baseline cost estimate, the plan estimates total costs could be as low as $63.2 billion or as high as $98.1 billion. The last plan, presented in 2016, estimated the project would cost $64 billion and be open by 2029.

Despite Kelly's optimism that the project is doable, the plan drew fresh fire from critics who doubt it will ever be built.

“Let's cut our losses and use the billions not yet wasted on (high-speed rail) to instead improve freeways, highways and roads and perhaps improve existing rail systems throughout California,” Republican state Sen. Andy Vidak said.

Beyond the business plan, a state audit under way could expose more management and cost issues when released later this year.

 

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