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Lawmakers Seek California High-Speed Rail Audit As Cost Rises

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A bipartisan team of lawmakers is expected to request a formal audit of California's high-speed rail project after the projected cost of one segment rose by nearly $3 billion.

Democratic Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose and Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno will make their pitch for the audit Tuesday to a joint committee, which will choose whether to authorize it. A representative from the California High-Speed Rail Authority has been asked to testify.

"As a vital partner in the delivery of the high-speed rail system, it is incumbent upon us as a legislative body to provide strong oversight and guidance to ensure that the project is on an effective path toward successful completion," the lawmakers wrote in their audit request.

California's plan to build high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco is now estimated to cost more than $65 billion, up substantially from a decade ago.

Earlier in January, the project's board announced a $3 billion hike in the costs for a segment of track in the Central Valley, the project's first phase. A segment from San Francisco to Bakersfield is slated to be open by 2025, with the tracks to Los Angeles open by 2029, but that timeline could face delays.

Despite those challenges, Gov. Jerry Brown forcefully defended the project last week in his State of the State address. It would be the nation's first high-speed train if completed. He noted the project has created 1,500 construction jobs in the Central Valley.

The audit would examine ideas for accelerating the project's timeline and reducing its costs. It would also evaluate the authority's contract management and the community and economic impacts.

The lawmakers' audit request comes as the authority brings on a new chief executive officer, Brian Kelly, most recently the head of California's state transportation agency. The lawmakers said an audit would help ensure "effective management" of the project.

"Without question, the high-speed rail program is the largest, most complex and, in some ways, most far-reaching public infrastructure project in the nation," they wrote.

The High-Speed Rail Authority is also preparing to release its biennial business plan. It's typically due by May 1, but the board requested a month-long extension, prompting criticism from Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Lawmakers must pass a budget by June 15, and the rail project is paid for in part through revenue from the cap-and-trade program.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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