California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he's ending the state's effort to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Newsom said Tuesday in his State of the State address it "would cost too much and take too long" to build the line long championed by his predecessor, Jerry Brown. Latest estimates pin the cost at $77 billion and completion in 2033.
Newsom said he wants to continue construction of the high-speed link from Merced to Bakersfield in California's Central Valley. He said building the line could bring economic transformation to the agricultural region.
And he said abandoning that portion of the project would require the state to return $3.5 billion in federal dollars.
Doug Verboon, vice chairman of the Kings County Board of Supervisors, said Newsom confirmed what he and others knew all along — there’s no money for the project.
Verboon, who was an advocate of placing the rail along Highway 99, said the fact that it was decided the rail would go through Kings County proves that there should have been a better plan in place before anything was started.
“It was disorganized,” Verboon said. “They needed to stop and restructure.”
Verboon said this decision is a “slap in the face” to both those who were in favor of the High Speed Rail and those who were against it because those who were in favor won’t get to use it, and those who were against it won’t even need it.
“We can’t put the ground back the way it was,” Verboon said of local families and farmers who had their homes and land taken in order to build here.
Newsom also is replacing Brown's head of the board that oversee the project and is pledging to hold the project's contractors more accountable for cost overruns.
Local representatives issues statements following the announcement. Both Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) and Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) commended Newsom's effort.
"As a representative of the Valley, I respect the decision by California voters on the high-speed rail. Moreover, I applaud the Governor’s effort to bring transparency and accountability to the HSR project," Hurtado said. "For this reason, I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Governor to ensure that communities in the Valley continue to be heard and represented."
“I appreciate the Governor’s comments about the hard truths of High Speed Rail and his willingness to bring oversight to the project," Salas said. "I look forward to working with the Governor to bring transparency and accountability.”
However, Congressman TJ Cox (D-Fresno) said this new approach to the High Speed Rail does not satisfy the concerns of farmers and ranchers in the Central Valley over eminent domain, nor does it secure long-term economic prosperity by connecting the Valley with Southern and Northern California.
"I believe that we must bring our rural and urban communities together to find transportation solutions that meet the needs of both – and this proposal fails to do that," Cox said. “In his remarks, Governor Newsom rightly pointed out that the Central Valley is a vital economic hub for California. I look forward to working with him to bring more investment to our region.”
Verboon said the High Speed Rail Authority now needs to work with people locally to resolve issues and create a good relationship, because whether people like it or not, the project is in Kings County’s backyard.
“This may be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Maybe they can go back and do a good job.”