A freight train slowly descends in the Tehachapi Mountains, near the route… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
The California High-Speed Rail Authority said Thursday that it was adding 12 months to the construction schedule for 130 miles of track in the Central Valley, easing what some outside experts have contended was an overly aggressive and risky timeline.
Jeff Morales, chief executive of the authority, said the revised schedule would have the track completed by December 2017 rather than a year earlier as set under the agency's contracting documents. The new timetable will allow contractors to use less overtime and other practices that were expected under the accelerated plan in place earlier, Morales said.
"We are going to get lower bids, save some money and still meet all of our deadlines," he said. "It is a good business move."
Construction industry experts have said that the job of building the $6 billion of track through the Central Valley would require spending $3.5 million per day, one of the fastest rates of transportation project spending in history. The authority put the number at $2.7 million per day, still high by U.S. standards.
The Central Valley track is the first segment of the state's bullet train system, which would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco by about 2028 for a total of $68 billion. The first actual construction work is expected to begin next July in Fresno.
The change is just the latest in a series of announcements that have pushed back some milestones in the Central Valley construction, which would run along the east side of the valley between Madera and Bakersfield. Five contractor teams were originally supposed to submit bids by September. That was later pushed back to November and then January.
Despite the changes, Morales said that the project is not falling behind schedule and that the full 130 miles of track will be completed within the $6-billion budget. He said the revised construction schedule is also consistent with the agency's business plan that was adopted earlier this year, which projects that the new track could be used by 2018.
The aggressive schedule had been adopted to protect federal grants under the Obama administration's stimulus program, which required all the funds to be spent by Sept. 30, 2017. Morales said the agency will still meet that deadline by spending the federal stimulus money first and then completing the later work with state funds and other federal appropriations without the deadline.