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California High-Speed Rail Costs Skyrocket

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – The estimated cost of California's high-speed rail project is rising by billions of dollars.

Environmental impact studies released Tuesday and obtained in advance by The Associated Press, put the cost of building the initial segment at anywhere from $10 billion to $13.9 billion.

That's sharply higher than the $7.1 billion estimate from 2009 for the Merced-to-Bakersfield section. Rail board executives say the higher costs include more elevated tracks in the Central Valley and more specific data about property values.

Information on public commentary for the California rail project

Construction is scheduled to start next year. KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier said that projects are almost always touted as cheaper than they will actually turn out to be.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:

"The first thing you do when trying to build something like high-speed rail is sell it to the public. That's what they did here a couple of years back when they got Californians to approve about $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail," said Matier. "You're also trying to sell it to investors. The people behind the project are usually pretty enthusiastic about it, so the tendency is to undersell the cost and oversell the benefits. That's when reality starts to sink in."

Critics say the project is in danger of runaway costs at a time when tax dollars are scarce.

Supporters say the proposed route between San Francisco and Anaheim will create thousands of jobs and be cheaper in the long run than adding freeways.

Supporters are rushing to defend the project's new price tag, saying that it's the changes in the track design that have caused project costs to soar.

Every concession from high speed rail planners adds to the overall price tag, says Quentin Kopp, former chairman of the high speed rail board. For example, he says a tunnel is estimated to cost six times more than an elevated track.

"So when you make concessions to local authorities because of the clamor emanating from smaller cities along the route, you drive the cost up," said Kopp.

Kopp said the new numbers are adjusted for future inflation.

KCBS' Matt Bigler Reports:

You can hear Phil Matier's comments Monday through Friday at 7:50am and 5:50pm on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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