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Gov. Gavin Newsom slows high-speed rail plan to SF [Updated]

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Full route from Los Angeles to San Francisco deemed too costly for now; Transbay Transit Center left deeper in limbo

State Environmental Laws Threaten To Slow CA High Speed Rail Project
Construction of the San Joaquin River viaduct.
Photo by California High-Speed Rail Authority via Getty Images

Update: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office now says that, in fact, the state is not canceling the LA-SF connection but that the state cannot move forward with the plan until more funding is acquired.

Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click told Curbed SF, “As the governor said in the speech, we have to be realistic about the project—that means refocus and reprioritize to get a finished section from Bakersfield to Merced.

“[...] The state will continue undertaking the broader project—completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the SF to LA leg—that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams.”

During Newsom’s morning speech, the governor said, “We will continue our regional projects north and south.” But minutes before that he said, “There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, much less San Francisco to LA,” creating some confusion.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first State of the State address Tuesday contained a shocker for the Bay Area, as the former San Francisco mayor announced that he will temporarily cancel plans to extend the high-speed rail from LA to SF.

Newsom is not doing away entirely with the plan for the multibillion-dollar rail, which is already under construction.

Rather, the finished project will extend only as far as California’s Central Valley. Newsom says the original planned course is simply too expensive.

“Abandoning the high-speed rail entirely will have wasted billions of dollars, with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it,” said Newsom at Tuesday’s State of the State Address. “I have no interest in giving $3.5 billion federal dollars allocated for this project back.”

The governor added, “There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, much less San Francisco to LA.”

Newsom says California will finish construction on the first phase and create a link stretching from Merced to Bakersfield—cities with populations of less than 90,000 and 400,000 respectively, according to the U.S. Census.

“I know some critics will say that’s a train to nowhere,” noted Newsom.

The governor also insisted that the new rail connection will stimulate California’s neglected central regions.

California voters approved a high-speed rail connection between SF and LA in 2008. At the time, the budget was $40 billion. Since then, the latest estimates eyeball the final figure at $77 billion, with some potential scenarios rising as high as $100 billion.

The original high-speed rail plan was to extend 700 miles, from California’s southernmost tip all the way to Sacramento. Now Newsom is putting the brakes on the plan after the state built less than a third of the original line.

Despite the cost overruns, 2018 polling showed the rail plan was still relatively popular in the state—the Public Policy Institute of California found 53 percent of those polled in favor of the project, almost the same figure as the 52.7 percent of voters who approved it.

Ironically, the region that was least enthusiastic about the high-speed rail in the poll was the Central Valley, whereas the project enjoyed broad support in the Bay Area.

The news also comes as yet another blow to the beleaguered Transbay Transit Terminal in San Francisco, which was to serve as the northernmost terminus of the LA-SF connection.