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Bullet train funding plan faulted

The Legislative Analyst's Office says the financing plan does not fulfill key requirements of the ballot measure voters approved to authorize the project.

November 30, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

The funding plan for the California bullet train does not comply with key provisions of a ballot measure that voters approved to authorize the project and $9 billion in state bonds to help finance it, according to a report released Tuesday.

The study — by the Legislative Analyst's Office, which periodically reviews the $98-billion construction proposal — concluded that the most recent funding plan does not meet important requirements of Proposition 1A because high-speed trains cannot operate on the first stretch of track to be built next year in the Central Valley.

Before bond financing can be requested, analysts said, project officials must complete an environmental review and identify a corridor, a usable segment, all sources of committed funds and a schedule for the receipt of financing.

"Our review finds that the funding plan only identifies committed funding for the initial construction segment, which is not a usable segment, and therefore does not meet the requirements of Proposition 1A," their report said.

In addition, analysts said, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has not obtained all environmental approvals for any usable segment and probably would not receive the necessary clearances before the start of construction.

High-speed rail officials discussed the report Tuesday with the analyst's office. They contend that the funding plan complies with the 2008 ballot measure and other statutory requirements.

"We have the opinion of counsel," said Dan Richard, a rail authority board member. "We have the resources and the ideas for how one could deal with it" if the report's conclusions become "a real obstacle."

The rail authority plans to build 130 miles of track that would run from south of Merced to north of Bakersfield. It is the first part of a 520-mile system that would eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco with trains traveling at 220 mph.

Stations, maintenance facilities and the electrical system needed to power high-speed trains are not included in the first phase, which is estimated to cost at least $6 billion. Authority officials want to run Amtrak's San Joaquin service on the line until the system can be expanded.

The analyst's conclusions may lend credence to a state lawsuit filed earlier this month by Kings County and two Central Valley residents. They are seeking a court order to halt the Central Valley segment on the grounds that Proposition 1A and related state legislation call for the construction of track that high-speed trains can use.

The report by the Legislative Analyst's Office is a review of the project's draft business and funding plans. Although researchers found that the business plan largely meets state requirements, they concluded that the funding proposals were highly speculative.

Because the availability of funding to expand beyond the Central Valley section remains uncertain, analysts questioned whether operating conventional trains on the initial segment was worth the expense to build it.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this report.

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