California's controversial and increasingly expensive high-speed-rail system will be the subject of a public hearing hosted by Assemblyman Rich Gordon in Palo Alto next Tuesday (Nov. 15).
Gordon, D-Menlo Park, will lead a discussion on the California High Speed Rail Authority's newly released business plan, which shows the project's estimated price tag rising to $98.5 billion from an initial projection of $37 billion and its timeline for completion extended from 2020 to 2033. The business plan also lays out the rail authority's proposal to phase the construction of the rail line and its strategy for getting the needed funding. The strategy relies largely on federal grants and tax credits, along with $11 billion in private investment. State voters had approved a $9.95 billion bond measure for the project in 2008.
Gordon, who earlier this year championed a "blended system" under which high-speed rail and Caltrain would share tracks on the Peninsula, chairs the Assembly's Budget Subcommittee 3, which oversees Resources and Transportation agencies. He said in a statement that the hearing will serve as a forum for the rail authority to "present the business plan, receive public input, and identify key areas of concern that may require further analysis."
Gordon was one of many state officials who expressed concern about the rail project's swelling price tag in the new business plan.
"I find the business plan comprehensive, but there are still questions that remain unanswered -- including how the Authority plans to pay for the nearly $100 billion project," Gordon said in a statement. "Myriad concerns have been relayed by residents locally and across the State, and I look forward to their comments and the Authority's presentation at next week's hearing."
Jim Hartnett, a member of the rail authority's board of directors, is scheduled to join Gordon at the meeting, which will take place between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at City Hall (250 Hamilton Ave.).
The plan, while widely viewed as a major improvement over the rail authority's 2009 effort (the prior plan was panned by a host of nonpartisan agencies and watchdogs), is already facing skepticism in Palo Alto. Last Thursday, the City Council's Rail Committee directed staff to prepare a scope of services for an independent consultant who could review the 230-page document.
The local watchdog group Californians Advocating for Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) also blasted the new plan for using the same methodology for the rail system's ridership projections as the earlier version. The group has consistently argued that the agency's methodology is flawed that that its numbers are inflated. The Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley has also criticized the rail authority's earlier ridership projections, which are largely unchanged in the new document.
Nadia Naik, a co-founder of CARRD, said her group "strongly encourages the public to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to speak directly to legislators about the California High-Speed Rail project.
"The project is at a critical juncture and attendees can both hear testimony about how things are going and offer their own ideas and comments to lawmakers," Naik said in a statement.