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Doubts over California High Speed Costs

California High-Speed Rail TrainAt the end of last week, the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group said that state bonds for high-speed rail should be withheld until the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) can develop an economically feasible business plan. This has brought a lot of doubt over how much a high-speed line will cost the state.

Right now, there is a shortfall of $25 billion to $30 billion for the first phase of the high-speed rail project, and there’s no obvious way for the funds to be raised. What’s worse is that the review group, which was tasked with advising state legislators on the project, says ridership estimates can’t be verified, while the CHSRA’s business and staffing plans aren’t adequate.

In 2008, voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for the high-speed rail link, which was initially estimated to cost $33 billion. Now this estimate has tripled to $99 billion, and a recent poll of voters showed that most of them would reject the bonds if they were given a second chance to vote on the matter.

However, there is a debate now on if it would be more beneficial for the project to go ahead or not. This comes as high-speed rail supporters estimate that it will cost $171 billion to build new roads and airports if the line isn’t built. Without the bullet services, promoters warn that the state will have to add 2,300 miles of highway and another airport about the size of Los Angeles International to handle the predicted surge in future travel.

A state-appointed panel of specialists, however, has attacked this alternative. The experts are due to release an assessment on the rail project’s business plan soon, and it’s expected to cast doubt on how valid and accurate the $171 billion figure is. Government officials, watchdogs and transportation researchers are already saying that the claim is based on exaggerated estimates, such as incorrect assumptions and misleading statements. University of California, Berkeley ‘s Institute of Transportation Studies director Samer Madanat says that the methodology has some dishonesty about it, and he doesn’t trust an estimate like that.

CHSRA officials had predicted earlier that the alternative of highway and airport constructions would cost around $100 billion. It wasn’t until the estimated cost for the high-speed rail project rose to $99 billion that the authority pulled the alternative cost and increased it to $171 billion. CHSRA board member Dan Richard, whose in line to become chairman, says that they underestimated the costs of high-speed rail alternatives. Expanding highways and maintaining them won’t come for free, he added. The authority says that the price of the alternatives is a key part of its rationale for developing the high-speed rail network. Possible environmental benefits and jobs are also main parts of that.

 

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