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'Let's be Real': Governor Dramatically Cuts California High-Speed Rail Project

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his first State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature at the Capitol on Feb. 12, 2019, in Sacramento. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California’s new governor is giving up on the high-speed rail plans pushed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, deciding that the costs crush the benefits of their “ambitious vision.”

In his first State of the State address today, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that “there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation, 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,” he said. “Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA. I wish there were.”

The project was projected to cost $77.3 billion, a dramatic hike from the original estimate of $13 billion. The 520-mile, 220-mph system with a target launch of 2033 could go as high as $98 billion, according to state estimates.

Newsom said a 119-mile stretch in the state’s central San Joaquin Valley, from Merced to Bakersfield, would be completed.

“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,” he said. “High-speed rail is much more than a train project. It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley. We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by high-speed rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.”

“Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize. The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told. A story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.”

Newsom said he wouldn’t walk away from all high-speed rail because that “means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.”

“And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump,” he added.

In his wide ranging speech that announced a number of new initiatives to address problems such as homelessness and Alzheimer’s, Newsom compared Trump’s “so-called emergency at our border” to President George W. Bush opposing same-sex marriage during a State of the Union address.

“Now, just like back then, we must stand up for those maligned, marginalized, and scapegoated,” he said. “Because last week, we heard another president stand up at the State of the Union and offer a vision of an America fundamentally at odds with California values. He described a country where inequality doesn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change doesn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum.”