SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Governor Newsom is clarifying his comments Tuesday night after hitting the brakes on California's high-speed rail project.
During his first State of the State address, he suggested pulling the plug on the line between San Francisco and Los Angeles and focusing on one between Merced and Bakersfield instead.
Newsom said the project had been botched and cost too much, but within the last several hours, a spokesperson massaged his remarks, saying the governor is not walking away from the project altogether, even if there is not a full path for it right now.
"Let's be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long," Newsom said during the State of the State address Tuesday morning. "Right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield."
After years of delays and funding problems, the governor wants to re-focus efforts on parts of the Central Valley line that is already under construction.
He says if the Merced to Bakersfield section is not complete by 2022, the state will have to pay back $3.5 billion to the federal government.
"I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump," Newsom said.
Phase two construction includes a line connecting Sacramento to Merced, all the way down to LA, forming a blended rail system with the Caltrain.
Bay Area Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) says he wants a full rail system in place but agrees with the Governor's approach.
"We have to make sure that the projects we've already started as part of high-speed rail get done and then see where we go from there," Chiu said.
But Republican Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Chico) wants the governor to scrap the project altogether.
"I know the valley. And that train is not going to save the economy of the valley. It will just gonna put more billions into it," Nielson said.
As for the price tag on this project, the latest estimates put the cost at $77 billion with completion set for 2033. So far, $5.1 billion has been set.
Part of the high-speed rail project is already under construction in Fresno. Right now workers are building a viaduct over the San Joaquin River as part of the link between Bakersfield and Madera.
Caltrain says the governor has committed to the agency's electrification project. The high-speed rail project is providing more than $700 million in funds to Caltrain to transition from diesel engines.
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