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High-speed rail adopts new business plan

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POSTED April 10, 2014 8:10 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The board that oversees the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved a new business plan to submit to state lawmakers Thursday, reflecting lower revenue projections but leaving the 2028 timeline for finishing the $68 billion bullet train unchanged despite legal setbacks that could cause delays.

The 2014 plan is an update required every two years for the proposed 520-mile system linking Northern and Southern California. It will be submitted to lawmakers, but they are not required to take any action on it.

Among the changes adopted since 2012 is a lower projection for revenue, prompted by research showing Californians are taking shorter but more frequent trips. Revenue is expected to be 5 percent lower than originally projected by 2025 and 10 percent lower by 2040, but the authority says it still will be able to operate without taxpayer subsidies.

The new business plan does not affect the status of two court rulings being considered by a state appellate court, which rail authority officials have warned could cause serious delays if they are not overturned.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny concluded that the project no longer complies with the promises made to voters when they approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for it in 2008. He also ordered the authority to write a new financing plan explaining how the state will pay for the first 300 miles of construction.

The business plan adopted Thursday is separate from that financing plan. It provides a blueprint for how the rail line would operate and sets benchmarks for its various phases.

The rail authority has not set an official groundbreaking date for the first section of track, a roughly 30-mile segment from Madera to Fresno. Instead, it says engineering work is ongoing and it is trying to buy the needed land or acquire it through eminent domain.

Also Thursday, Kris Murray, the mayor pro tem of Anaheim, presented letters Thursday from six Orange County businesses and associations that support the bullet train, which would end in Anaheim under the current project. Disneyland and the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks were among them.

The project could generate 23,000 local jobs and $103 million in tax revenue for the county, according to the letter signed by Disneyland director of government relations Carrie Nocella. It also said the rail line would make travel to and from the region easier, “reducing congestion and improving our air quality.”

The project has come under continued criticism for its lack of long-term financing and is expected to face scrutiny in the Legislature over Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to fund it in part by tapping $250 million in proceeds from the cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emission fees.

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