A movement is afoot to have voters rescind the $9 billion bond they authorized in 2008.
State Senator Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, is preparing legislation seeking a reconsideration vote on the June 2012 statewide ballot after a report issued Tuesday showed the cost of the first rail segment is expected to soar from $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion.
Another state senator - Democrat Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach - believes the state should reconsider returning the $3.5 billion that the federal government has committed to the high speed rail until a clearer picture is provided on exactly how the overall 800-mile system will be financed.
The first segment of 178 miles of track from Merced to Bakersfield is targeted to break ground in September 2012. The California High Speed Rail Authority went with the segment extensively criticized as “the train to nowhere” in order to meet a federal deadline for starting work. The valley segment is considered less problematic than routes through heavily populated areas.
The 2008 bond also makes establishing a high speed rail line along the Altamont Commuter Express corridor from Stockton to San Jose eligible for funding as well.
A high speed rail version of the ACE service on new tracks across the Altamont Pass will allow speeds up to 150 miles per hour compared to conventional trains that move at times as slow as 10 mph on the windy route plus have to deal with freight traffic.
The commute is now about two hours and 10 minutes from Lathrop/Manteca to San Jose. It is a time comparable with driving at the worst part of the commute. The faster speed possible over the Altamont would reduce the time to 55 minutes even with running at much slower speeds than 150 mph through the populated areas on both sides of the Altamont Pass.
A high speed rail stop for ACE rail is envisioned in Lathrop. A stop is also proposed in Manteca should the ACE high speed line be extended into Modesto.
In addition, two of the three options to take high speed rail north of Merced to Sacramento pass through Manteca.
Environmental reports released Tuesday show the first segment of the line in the Central Valley will cost between $10 billion and $13.9 billion, far more than the 2009 estimate of $7.1 billion.
Rail authority officials say the 2009 estimates were made before detailed engineering work and feedback from communities along the proposed route.
Up to $3.8 billion of the increased cost is associated with elevating the tracks for as much as 42 miles.
Planners anticipated the higher costs as more information about land acquisition and other details related to actual construction became known, said Roelof van Ark, the rail authority’s chief executive.
“We’ve had cost increases, but I believe the costs are now realistic and fair,” he said.
He said delays will lead to escalating costs. Construction of the first stretch of tracks is scheduled to begin by September 2012.
Van Ark said that estimate of $43 billion to build an 800-mile system also is sure to grow.
The rising costs and concerns that the federal government will focus on austerity measures and shut off money for high-speed rail projects have left lawmakers and others questioning whether California can afford the project.
Supporters of the rail project, the nation’s most ambitious, said the private sector will be a significant source of funding and that the money will start flowing once work begins