High-speed rail passenger service plans that ultimately could make Manteca a crossroads for two separate bullet train systems if they are built have come under attack as not being financially feasible.
A report issued by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group put in place as part of the voter approved $9 billion high-speed rail bond said the state should not authorize $2.7 billion in bonds to build the initial section of the system. The state-appointed panel recommends putting high-speed rail plans on hold.
That wouldn’t bother Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford who last week questioned the financial wisdom of proceeding with the project given the $98 billion cost and that fact the state didn’t even have one-fifth of the funding sources secured.
The mayor did note that should the concerns be addressed, high speed rail could have the same impact on communities it serves that the original railroads served in the 1860s in California.
While Manteca is not planned as a stop on the state’s north-south route – the closest are in Stockton and Modesto – it is a stop on the Altamont Commuter Express high speed rail line that dovetails into the state project. It can qualify for the same bond money that the state project is eligible to use.
Two of the three routes proposed to connect Sacramento to Los Angeles go through Manteca. One would follow the existing Union Pacific Railroad right-of way through town while the other would run just to te east of Austin Road.
In November, the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved a plan that requests $2.7 billion in state bonds to match $3.5 billion in federal money. It would be used to build 130 miles of track between Chowchilla and Bakersfield.
The stretch of tracks would form an integral part of the line’s first segment proposed to eventually span 290 miles from Bakersfield to San Jose or 300 miles from Merced to a point in the San Fernando Valley.
The report criticized the authority for failing to identify a long-term funding source for the $25 to $30 billion needed to complete either of those segments. The authority also failed to specify which of the two segments should be initiated first, according to the report.
The report also said the authority’s business plan was incomplete and its staffing was inadequate to manage a large construction project.
The total cost of the project has more than doubled to $98 billion since voters approved $9 billion in bonds in 2008.
The authority responded by calling the report “deeply flawed” and misleading. It said the report’s conclusions could place the $3.5 billion in federal funding at risk and jeopardize future funding. Other major infrastructure projects also don’t have fully identified funding sources at the start, the authority said.
The California Labor Federation also criticized the report. It defended the rail line, saying it would generate thousands of jobs and should not be delayed.
Proponents envision that the trains, traveling at up to 220 mph, would help transform the state’s economy by relieving congestion on clogged highways, allowing quicker travel between metropolitan areas and generating much-needed construction jobs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.