HANFORD — Kings County is suing the California High Speed Rail Authority.
They contend the authority is engaging in a bait-and-switch tactic - even if it is intended to be temporary - to get the controversial high speed rail project off the ground.
At the crux of the lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento is what the plaintiffs contend is the authority’s plan to build a conventional rail system that is not electric tied initially. That, they claim, is in direct violation of the wording of Proposition 1A that was approved by state voters. Because of that, the suit charges that it would be illegal to allow the Authority access to the $9 billion in Proposition 1A bond funds and that those funds cannot be released for construction of the High Speed Rail (HSR) system in the Central Valley.
The suit also charges that the Authority only has 20% of the money required to build a HSR usable segment in the Central Valley and that Prop. 1A prohibits the release of 1A bond funds until all the money is in place and immediately accessible for the proposed construction.
In their recently released business plan, the Authority confirms they have only $6 billion, but intend to build a segment of high speed rail in the Central Valley that would cost $30 billion. The suit also charges that, once the system starts operating as a High-speed rail system, it will require an operating subsidy, which is prohibited by Prop 1A. Finally, the suit charges that the Funding Plan approved by the Authority at its board meeting of November 3, 2011, violates Prop 1A because all environmental work has not been completed
That position is underscored by the Nov. 10 ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny who decided that the existing Program Level Environmental Impact Report from Merced to the San Francisco Bay area has to be set de-certified and must be re-circulated.
The new business plan for building California’s $98 billion high-speed rail project estimates that between 23 million and 34 million passengers will use the system by the time bullet trains traverse the state two decades from now. If those numbers fail to pan out, taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars a year in operating expenses.
The business model projects a trip from San Francisco Los Angeles would range from $52 for a multi-stop train during off-peak hours to $123 for a last-minute purchase on an express train. The average price would be around $81.
When voters authorized $9 billion for high-speed rail in 2008, the San Francisco-to-Anaheim route was projected to cost $45 billion and was to be completed by 2020.
Planners hope to start construction of the first phase, from Fresno to Bakersfield, next year and complete it by 2017. The valley was picked for the first segment due to a federal requirement that its money must be put to use by 2016. The authority believed there would be fewer roadblocks in the valley in terms of lawsuits, right-of-way issues, and intense construction.