Gov. Newsom puts brakes on high-speed rail project

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The long-touted dream of a high-speed rail line connecting San Diego and Los Angeles with the Bay Area was put on hold Tuesday, with Gov. Gavin Newsom saying that while he respects the idea, the project needs a major reevaluation.

“There’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation,” Newsom said during his State of the State Address in Sacramento. “But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.

“Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.,” he said. “I wish there were.”

Newsom said he wants the state to move ahead a high-speed line between Merced and Bakersfield.

“I know that some critics will say this is a `train to nowhere,’ but that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.”

Newsom fell short of entirely scrapping the idea of a statewide rail line, saying environmental work will continue and the state will keep pushing for “more federal funding and private dollars.”

“But let’s just get something done,” he said.

That caveat led to outrage from some critics who said Newsom should pull the plug on the entire project, which has skyrocketed in cost to more than $70 billion.

“The governor tried to have it both ways — he admitted it has been a failure, but he committed to keep spending billions on the failed project by changing the project to just a Central Valley commuter train from Merced to Bakersfield,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta. “That’s not what people were promised, and the project should be killed outright.”

Carl DeMaio, chairman of the watchdog group Reform California and a former San Diego City Council member, said Newsom clearly intends to keep the high-speed rail project alive.

“Newsom wants to spend tens of billions on a rail line between Merced and Bakersfield — a complete waste,” DeMaio said. “Once this segment is done, politicians will argue that no one is riding this route because it doesn’t travel far enough, and voila, the entire project will continue. Taxpayers should not be fooled. The insidious move is actually designed to keep this boondoggle alive rather than do the right thing and terminate this wasteful project immediately.”

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