DERAILED: California’s high-speed train project going nowhere fast

by
December 25, 2013

The only thing speedy about California’s vaunted plan for a high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco is the name.

But after decades of fits and starts involving lawsuits, alternative routes, environmental studies, political deals, funding shortfalls and a statewide vote, the time finally may have come for one of the nation’s most ambitious and expensive public infrastructure projects either to zoom ahead or jump the tracks.

“We’re at a crossroads,” said Stuart Flashman, an Oakland lawyer representing King County and landowners affected by the project. “The [California High-Speed Rail] Authority made a series of political deals that deviated very markedly from what it was first set up to do and what the taxpayers voted for. Now, its past has caught up with it.”

In a state famous for its love affair with the car and notorious for its slow-moving traffic, a bullet train has been on California’s agenda since the 1990s. During that time, the project has become increasingly ambitious. The estimated cost has ballooned from $33 billion in 2008 to $68.5 billion. Expanding beyond San Francisco to Los Angeles, the proposed route now includes the Central Valley cities of Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield.

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