The projected cost of California's bullet train has jumped to $77 billion and the opening date has been pushed back four years to 2033, according to a business plan released Friday.
Every two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority releases a snapshot of building timelines, cost estimates and other critical details about the ambitious plan to transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours. This is the first under new chief executive Brian Kelly, who has promised more transparency about the project's challenges after years of cost increases and delays.
"It's going to be bumpy," said Kelly. "What's important to me is you hear that from us."
While the goal is to connect the two major cities, the new plan focuses primarily on opening track between San Francisco and the Central Valley. That portion of track is now set to be finished by 2029, also marking a four-year delay.
However, significant challenges remain. One of them is how to cross through a section of mountains — a critical segment to link Silicon Valley to the Central Valley. Rail officials are still working on how best to do that, Kelly wrote in the plan's introduction.
The $77 billion cost, a 20 percent increase, is a baseline estimate, but Kelly also included high and low ranges in the plan based on potential risks.
According to the released plan, 119 miles of track in the Central Valley — the first construction segment — is scheduled to be completed by 2022. That's 14 years after voters approved a $10 billion bond for high-speed rail in November 2008.
A summary of the plan reviewed by The Associated Press offers limited details on the portion between the Central Valley and Los Angeles. The agency hopes to complete all necessary environmental reviews for the entire line by 2022. Initial timelines had planned for environmental clearance by 2017 for most parts of the track.
How to pay for the entire project remains "uncertain," said Kelly.
The state has spent $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money and has an additional $930 million in federal money on the table. That's on top of the $10 billion bond from voters.
The rest of the money is set to come from California's cap-and-trade auctions, a system meant to limit carbon emissions by selling credits to pollute, which can be a volatile source of revenue diverted by lawmakers in the future. Predicted private investment for the project has not come through either, although Kelly hopes businesses and other private investors will chip in once part of the train is up and running between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley.
Despite the challenges, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown reaffirmed his commitment to building high-speed rail in his January State of the State address. The Legislature, though, recently approved an audit of the project. The Legislature serves in an oversight role and controls a portion of the money to build rail.
"I'm ready for Mr. Kelly to be honest and straightforward and tell us the good, bad and the ugly," said Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno, a chief critic of the project.