Gov. Gavin Newsom pledges to scale back high-speed rail and twin-tunnels projects in State of the State speech

By Phil Willon and Taryn Luna
Feb 12, 2019 | 5:40 PM

Sacramento —

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his first State of the State speech that he intends to scale back California’s $77-billion bullet train project, saying that while the state has the capacity to complete the first leg in the Central Valley, extending the rail line to Southern California and the Bay Area would “cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.”

The Democratic governor supports finishing the controversial high-speed rail line between Bakersfield and Merced, and said it would invigorate the economy in California’s midsection and reduce the region’s air pollution. But because of the project’s persistent cost overruns, mismanagement and delays, the grand vision of bullet trains whisking passengers from San Diego to San Francisco doesn’t appear viable and will need to be reassessed, Newsom said.

“There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” Newsom said. “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.”

Newsom also said he will continue to push for federal and private funding for the entire rail system, leading to some confusion about whether he planned to scrap all but the Central Valley portion or simply postpone construction of the remaining legs of the project. After the speech, a spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed the latter.

In another break from his predecessor, Jerry Brown, the governor also announced in his speech Tuesday that he will downsize the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta twin-tunnels project to one tunnel.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) agreed with the governor and said the state needs to rethink its high-speed rail efforts. But he raised concerns about how scaling back the rail system fulfills the vision that voters approved.

“The extent to which it does not link two of the three largest urban areas in the state seems problematic,” Rendon said.

Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) called Newsom’s plan “almost humorous.”

“We’re going to put more billions into a train in a place where there is no ridership and no freight will be hauled,” Nielsen said. “What economy is that going to improve in the Central Valley? I was raised there. I farmed there. It is not the answer for the valley.”

To read expanded article, click here.