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Gov. Brown Champions High-Speed Rail Even Though It's Billions Over Budget

FRESNO (KPIX 5) -- California Governor Jerry Brown went to bat Thursday for the bullet train, insisting that high-speed rail will be built even though the project is billions of dollars over budget already.

Brown used much of his last State of the State address to remind everyone, here and across the nation, of what's been accomplished in recent years, saying California is setting the pace for America.

Even after last week's revelation that the first phase is billions over budget, Brown doubled down on the rail project saying it's still cheaper than building more freeways and airports.

"I make no bones about it. I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better," Brown said.

Brown is a man on a mission to build high-speed rail.

Recent revelations that the first segment, currently being built in the Central Valley, is over budget by 35 percent. For a total of $10.6 billion.

During his address Thursday, he implied that billion dollar cost overruns are just part of the process.

"Like any big project, there are obstacles. There were for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, for the Golden Gate Bridge and for the Panama Canal. I'll pass over in silence the time it took to build the Bay Area bridge, that was almost 20 years and by the way, it was over budget by $6 billion, on a $1 billion project," Brown said.

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) is a supporter of high-speed rail and agrees with the governor that projects often cost more than expected.

"I think we need to focus on making sure that the cost estimates are correct. But there's always going to be a certain level of unpredictability with high-speed rail," Ting said.

What level is tolerable? Is there a limit?

Ting said, "Absolutely, I mean, absolutely. We have this one leg that's going to San Jose, we have the electrification of Caltrain, those seem like very obvious legs to complete. But you're right - we're building it right now, at some point is there too much? And I don't know exactly when that point's going to come."

But East Bay Republican Catherine Baker says the project is not a good use of taxpayer money.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) said, "I think Californians really deserve so much better."

She says the high-speed rail project needs more oversight.

"We can't ignore the cost overruns, the contractual lawsuit problems they've had, the lack of private funding, and it's not high-speed rail because of the way they've chosen the project and it's seven years over time so we cannot ignore those facts," Baker said.

And even Bay Area Democrats who support high-speed rail agree that more oversight is needed.

Asm. David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said, "As legislators we want to make sure that our money is being well spent, that we have the accountability measures that we need, and that's certainly what I'll be looking for as we move forward on this project."

The $2.8 billion price jump is for a 119-mile segment in the Central Valley, which is partially under construction.

One of the major construction sites of the high speed-rail is in downtown Fresno.

This is one of 18 construction sites in the Central Valley -- in Fresno, Madera and Kings counties.

Since the governor officially broke ground three years ago, about 1,600 union laborers from technicians to machine operators to carpenters, have been working on the sites doing foundation work, pouring concrete and setting forms for structures.

The spokesperson for the high-speed rail says the plan is to have a large portion of the high-speed rail project - a train running from San Jose to Bakersfield - finished by 2025.

In fact, we could see that train running as soon as 2023 without passengers, for testing purposes.

Eventually, the plan is to extend the bullet train so that passengers can ride from San Francisco nonstop all the way to Los Angeles by the year 2029. If it all goes according to plan.

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