By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO – Adding to the long list of obstacles blocking California’s bullet train designs, the Trump administration announced Tuesday it was nixing $929 million in federal funding for a project meant to connect the state’s largest cities by high-speed rail.
The Federal Railroad Administration said it was not only terminating the federal grant, but also “actively exploring” ways to recoup $2.5 billion in federal spending already dedicated to the voter-approved bullet train, setting up another likely legal battle between the federal government and the Golden State.
In a letter sent to state officials, the administration says California won’t meet a 2022 project deadline and accused Gov. Gavin Newsom of making “fundamental” changes to the project that is supposed to eventually carry riders from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours.
“During his recent State of the State address, Gov. Newsom presented a new proposal that represents a significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment and frustrates the purpose for which federal funding was awarded,” the three-page letter states.
Last week during his first State of the State address, Newsom told lawmakers it was time to make “tough calls” on projects like the beleaguered high-speed rail in which cost estimates have jumped from $64 billion to $77 billion over the past couple years. The Democratic governor said the project’s focus should switch to completing the $10.6 billion Central Valley portion and he appointed a new director to oversee its management.
“Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA,” Newsom said. “I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”
Many, including President Donald Trump and state Republicans, interpreted the comments as Newsom waving the white flag on high-speed rail.
“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the federal government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now,” Trump tweeted a day after Newsom’s speech.
Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, said the Trump administration is making the “responsible choice” in reneging on nearly a billion dollars in transportation funding meant for California.
“In his State of the State address, Gov. Newsom acknowledged that the high-speed rail project simply isn’t feasible. This decision by the federal government is a logical response,” Waldron said in a statement.
But Newsom believes that the media and high-speed rail critics misinterpreted his planned remarks and contends that he wants to complete the Central Valley segment and then “move forward from there.”
One week after admitting the project has suffered from a lack of transparency and “years of neglect” from bureaucrats, the new governor finds himself suddenly defending the plan voters approved in 2008. Newsom said Tuesday’s letter was sent in retaliation for California filing a federal challenge to Trump’s national emergency declaration.
“This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by. This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it,” Newsom said in a statement.