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It's a double-whammy for California's high-speed rail project.

On Tuesday, the Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor, released a sharply critical report of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's efforts to build a bullet train system linking the northern and southern halves of the state.

Today, the chairman of a "peer review" committee that also reviewed the project is due to air many of the same criticisms to a special state Senate committee that's overlooking the project.

Will Kempton, a former state transportation director who now heads the Orange County Transportation Authority, told the Legislature in a letter last week that while he and other members of the peer review team see some improvements in the HSRA's operations, there are still many shortcomings.

The letter cites the authority's lack of staff to oversee dozens of consulting contracts and unanswered questions about costs, public and private financing, the extent of taxpayers' exposure and ridership projections, among other issues.

Voters approved a $9.95 billion bond issue to finance the state's share of the bullet train system, with the remainder to come from the federal government, local transit systems and private investors. But the costs of the system have been in flux. The current number for the first phase between Anaheim and San Francisco is $43 billion but Taylor and Kempton both contend that the real number is probably higher.

State law also bars taxpayer-financed subsidies for bullet train operations but Kempton's team says it's unclear what that means.

The project was to be discussed by an Assembly budget committee this morning but the hearing was delayed so that legislators could digest Taylor's report. He recommended that the HSRA receive only token funds to continue its operations until several issues are ironed out.



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