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Friday, Feb 07 2014 06:45 PM

Predicted costs dip slightly in new rail plan

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    By California High Speed Rail Authority

    An artist's conception of the bullet train speeding under the Tehachapi Pass.

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The anticipated cost to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2028 is predicted to drop slightly -- to a grand total of about $67.6 billion, according to a draft business plan released Friday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The revised cost estimate is down by less than 1 percent from the $68.4 billion forecast in the agency's previous business plan, which dates to April 2012. The draft 2014 business plan will be formally presented to the rail authority's board at its meeting Tuesday in Sacramento, and will be subject to public comment -- and, no doubt, criticism -- for a couple of months before a final version is prepared before May 1.

Related Info

The draft 2014 business plan is available online at: http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/FINAL_Draft_2014_Business_Plan.pdf

The plan is to be submitted to the state Legislature by May 1. Public comments on the draft may be submitted by:

* Filling out an online comment form: http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/Business_Plans/Draft_2014_Business_Plan.html

* Sending an email to the California High-Speed Rail Authority: 2014businessplancomments@hsr.ca.gov

* Mailing comments: California High-Speed Rail Authority, Attn: 2014 Business Plan, 770 L Street, Suite 800, Sacramento, CA 95814

* Leaving a voice mail at: 916-384-9516

* Or, making comments in person at rail authority board meetings starting at 10 a.m. in Sacramento on Feb. 11, March 11 or April 10.

Rail authority rejects request

The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday rejected a formal request that it provide a copy of the study that led it to dismiss a proposal to bypass central Bakersfield to the west instead of crossing through downtown.

In an email to The Californian, which submitted the request Jan. 17 under the state Public Records Act, the rail authority cited an exemption in section 6254(a) of the California Government Code.

The section states that government agencies need not disclose "preliminary drafts, notes, or interagency or intra-agency memoranda that are not retained by the public agency in the ordinary course of business, if the public interest in withholding those records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure."

The agency's email did not state why it thought withholding the study outweighed the public interest in disclosing it, or who made that determination.

The idea of having the rail project bypass downtown to the west instead of coming through downtown had been proposed by Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy and Ahron Hakimi, executive director of Kern Council of Governments. Tandy called the downtown route too disruptive, and Hakimi noted that the agency doesn't have money to build the project that far south anyway.

The rail authority dismissed the proposal late last year. CEO Jeff Morales said in an interview last month that some people support bringing the project through downtown.

Morales declined to discuss the proposal in detail or say why the rail authority rejected it in favor of the current plan to cross downtown.

-- Californian Staff Writer John Cox

Despite the meager dip in capital costs, the price remains considerably higher than the $33 billion that was touted when Proposition 1A, a $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure, was approved by California voters in 2008.

Cost estimates, always a subject of close scrutiny, have been something of a roller coaster ride for the authority and its critics in recent years.

The 2008 version of the business plan predicted that it would cost about $33 billion, in 2008 dollars, to build the 520-mile Phase 1 system from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim using fully dedicated tracks.

By 2009, in a report to the state Legislature, the authority revised its cost forecast to $34.9 billion in 2008 dollars, or $42.6 million to adjust for inflation for when money was to be spent.

A draft of the 2012 business plan, released in November 2011, nearly caused whiplash for many observers when it predicted construction costs of $65.4 million in 2010 dollars -- or an eye-popping $98.1 billion when adjusted for inflation through 2033.

The most recent business plan, an April 2012 revision of the November draft, scaled down both the plan and the cost. Instead of dedicated tracks for the entire system, the new plan called for sharing existing tracks with the Caltrain commuter rail line in the San Francisco Bay Area and with the Los Angeles region's Metro system. The price tag shrank to $68.4 billion in inflation-adjusted costs, or $53.4 million in 2011 dollars.

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