In another setback for high-speed rail in California, the project's peer review group told lawmakers today that it could not recommend bond funding for high-speed rail construction until its prospects for long-term funding are clearer.
"The fact that the Funding Plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program," the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group said in a letter to legislative leaders. "Without committed funds, a mega-project of this nature could be forced to halt construction for many years before additional funding could be obtained."
The peer review group, chaired by former Caltrans director Will Kempton, said many of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's projections remain optimistic.
The group said in its report that "we cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California."
The report comes at a crucial time, with high-speed rail proponents planning to ask the Legislature this year to appropriate bond proceeds to start construction in the Central Valley. The Rail Authority last year revised the project's estimated cost to almost $100 billion over 20 years, and public sentiment is turning against it, according to a recent Field Poll.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week reiterated his commitment to the project, and the Rail Authority today blasted the Peer Review Group's report.
Tom Umberg, chairman of the authority board, said in a letter to lawmakers that the report is "deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded." He appealed to lawmakers to look beyond it as they reconvene for the year on Wednesday.
"As the report presents a narrow, inaccurate and superficial assessment of the HSR program," Umberg wrote, "it does a disservice to policy-makers who must confront these decisions."
Brown spokesman Gil Duran said in an e-mail that the Peer Review Group's report "does not appear to add any arguments that are new or compelling enough to suggest a change in course."
PHOTO CREDIT: A view of a high speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high speed rail network. Newlands & Co. Inc., courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority.