By David Shepardson
(Reuters) – California’s ambitious high-speed rail project that aims to move travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours still faces significant funding challenges though of the $3.1 billion federal award.
The White House on Friday announced $8.2 billion in federal funding for rail projects across the country, including a project in California billed as the first high-speed rail project in the US with a speed of 220 miles per hour.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who in October asked President Joe Biden to approve the funding, said the award was “a vote of confidence in today’s vision and comes at a critical turning point, which gives the project new momentum.”
The administration also allocated $3 billion for a planned high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters Thursday that the California project “faces a lot of challenges that come with being the first of anything” and added that the train’s award-winning -face an “unusual level of scrutiny.”
The cost of the California high-speed rail project, approved by voters for $10 billion in 2008, has risen dramatically and the authority has not identified significant funding needed for the project which has faced numerous delays.
The entire San Francisco to Los Angeles project was initially estimated to cost around $40 billion but has now jumped to between $88 billion and $128 billion.
The rail authority estimates costs for an initial 171-mile segment connecting Merced to Bakersfield have risen from $25.7 billion to at least $32 billion and hopes to begin first service in 2030.
The Obama administration gave California $3.5 billion in 2010 and the state dedicated another $4.2 billion to the project.
California wants $8 billion in total from the Biden administration for the project after recently winning $202 million in federal funding for grade separation projects.
In 2021, the Biden administration restored funding for the California project after President Donald Trump pulled funding for the project, plagued by delays and rising costs, calling it a “disaster.” Many Republicans in Congress want to prevent the White House from providing more funding to the project.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Nick Zieminski)