A resolution, introduced by California’s Transportation Committee chairman, Mr Jim Frazier, directs the CHSRA not to enter into certain contracts before the legislature has considered and approved its funding request for the remaining high-speed rail bond funds.
According to CHSRA’s draft business plan, it plans to sign multibillion-dollar contracts for electrified rail infrastructure and rolling stock in the autumn, before requesting the remaining bond funding next spring.
The assembly says this process is back to front, as the contracts would essentially force it to provide the funding without having a say in the project.
“The only remaining opportunity for the legislature to weigh in on the direction of the high-speed rail project occurs when CHSRA asks us for the remaining $US 4.2bn in bond funds,” Frazier says. “We cannot allow CHSRA, or any department, to enter into contracts that bind the legislature’s approval of future appropriations. The legislature’s role in approving the budget must be respected before key decisions on the state’s largest infrastructure project are made.”
“It is important to make sure that the CHSRA does not close the door to options other than the one created by a small handful of bureaucrats and the unelected authority board,” says speaker of the assembly, Mr Anthony Rendon. “The voters have been given no voice since 2008 and their elected representative, the legislature, has had no vote since 2012. Both of those votes were based on a much different high-speed rail project than the one under the proposed contract. That proposal would lock current legislators, and legislators for the next 15 sessions, into a no-changes situation. It’s time to pause and make sure that the plan to go forward works for 2020 and has the support of those of us elected to represent the people of California.”
The project, launched in 2012, was originally designed to connect San Francisco and Sacramento with Los Angeles and San Diego. However, in his first state of the state address in February 2019, the governor of California, Mr Gavin Newsom, announced that the project would be scaled back due to spiralling costs and poor oversight, and only the section currently under construction in the Central Valley will be completed.
CHSRA announced in March 2018 that the total cost of Phase 1 had jumped by $US 13.1bn from $US 64.2bn in 2016 to $US 77.3bn but could rise to $US 98.1bn.
In July last year, CHSRA released a request for qualification (RFQ) for a $US 1.6bn design-build-maintain contract to equip the Merced - Bakersfield Central Valley section. The authority is also in the process of completing the environmental approval for Phase 1.
“Our high-speed rail project is the largest infrastructure project in California history, and it should be subject to strict oversight,” says assembly member, Ms Laura Friedman. “Before we commit public dollars to 30-year contracts, we need to ensure that it’s a sound investment that delivers a reliable and cost-effective high-speed rail system.”
The resolution does not legally force CHSRA to not issue the contract, the Los Angeles Times reports. But doing so would set up a potentially costly and historic battle. If the assembly failed to appropriate the funds after the rail authority had awarded the contract, the state could be on the hook for termination costs and end up with a project in disarray, the paper says. Or the assembly could be forced to appropriate the money to avoid those costs, backing what it now believes is a flawed plan.
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