A high-speed rail viaduct is under construction just south of Fresno near Highway 99. Image via California High-Speed Rail Authority
(AP) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday he’s abandoning a plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a project with an estimated cost that has ballooned to $77 billion.
“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
The idea long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule. The latest estimate for completion is 2033.
Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction that’s already under way on a segment of the high-speed train through California’s Central Valley, arguing it will revitalize the economically depressed region. He’s also replacing Brown’s head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.
Bay Area business leader Larry Mendonca will step into the role previously held by Dan Richard.
The move is sure to throw into question many of the associated activities with the high-speed rail that were viewed as economic development boosters, such as a rail station in Fresno and a heavy maintenance facility with thousands of jobs.
Newsom also said the state faces “hard decisions that are coming due” on clean water, housing and homelessness. He rebuked President Donald Trump once again on border security, highlighting his decision to withdraw most of the state’s National Guard troops from the Southern border.
“Last week, we heard (Trump) stand up at the State of the Union and offer a vision of an America fundamentally at odds with California values,” he said.
“He described a country where inequality didn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change didn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum at the border.”
Brown had agreed to deploy troops at the Trump administration’s request last year, although he said they couldn’t participate in immigration enforcement.
Newsom, though, said there’s been a “gray area” in the troops duties that may have allowed some to inadvertently participate in immigration activities, although a Guard official said the state’s troops have not helped detain anyone.
Newsom disputed Trump’s claim there is a crisis on the border and any need for National Guard troops was eliminated when Trump chose earlier this month to add 3,750 more U.S. troops at the border.
But Newsom’s speech went beyond immigration and other disagreements with the White House to his own ambitious policy goals for the state.
Newsom has laid out his vision for California twice already, in his inaugural address and through his first crack at the state budget. He spent his first month in office traveling to different parts of the state promoting his ideas on housing, juvenile justice and the environment.