California's high-speed-rail project would cost the state about $65 billion under projections released Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 9) by the Palo Alto-based rail watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD).
The group estimates that the cost of the voter-approved project would be about $22 billion more than the latest official estimates from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the state agency charged with constructing the rail system. Voters approved $9 billion for the project in November 2008 and the authority is banking on federal grants, private investments and contributions from local agencies to make up the balance of the cost.
The rail authority's 2009 business plan, which is now undergoing revisions, estimates the cost of the project to be about $42.6 billion. The price tag was listed at $33.6 billion in 2008, when the project was brought to the voters.
In analyzing the cost of constructing each segment of the proposed San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line, CARRD concluded that the $42.6 billion estimate was "inaccurate, even at the time it was made." The group noted that the rail authority plans to build the rail line in parallel to existing transportation corridors and that this objective requires "expensive civil works which were unaccounted for in the 2009 number."
"Even as environmental and planning work has advanced, no update to the official capital cost estimate has been made," CARRD stated in a news release. "This is true even when the only alternatives in most segments still being studied are significantly more expensive than those used to calculate the $43 billion number."
The group used official documents such as the rail authority's applications for federal stimulus funds and its environmental documents for each segment to tally the costs of the overall line. It concluded that the cost of the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment is now estimated at about $8.8 billion -- about $2.6 billion more than the estimate in the rail authority's 2009 business plan.
According to the CARRD analysis, constructing the San Jose-to-Merced segment would cost about $14.3 billion. The rail authority had estimated this cost at $6.9 billion in its 2009 business plan. The group also estimates that the cost of the Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment is now about $11.1 billion. The rail authority's business plan estimates the cost of this section at $5.1 billion.
Though the rail authority had not reviewed CARRD's report as of Wednesday afternoon, one state legislator put out a statement calling the analysis "invaluable."
State Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, said in her statement that she suspects "even this $65 billion dollar estimate may be low," given the projected $4.3 billion cost of the first Central Valley segment.
"Citizens up and down the state are learning more every day about this multi-billion dollar boondoggle," Harkey said in the statement. "At a time when our state is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and Sacramento is contemplating cuts to education, public safety and taxing us more, do we really need to spend untold billions on another train?"