PHOENIX - California Republicans have asked the Trump administration to block federal aid to the state's high speed rail project, pointing to reported cost overruns.
The request came in the form of a Jan. 24 letter to new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking that a proposed $650 million of federal grants for California's high speed rail project be rejected. The letter bore the signatures of all 14 California Republican members of congress. The project, controversial from the start, is run the by the California High-Speed Rail Authority and is supported by a nearly $10 billion bond measure passed in 2008. Multiple lawsuits are now targeting the project's authority to use some of that debt.
The letter cites a Los Angeles Times story about a Federal Railroad Administration report that the project is facing overruns that could end up costing California taxpayers as much as 50% more, some $3.6 billion, than estimated. The High-Speed Rail Authority has denied the conclusion of the Times report, saying that it "fundamentally misrepresents the document it purported to report on, as well as the status of the program."
"The article misuses deliberative information to suggest cost overruns, delays and potential lapses of funds that are not borne out by facts," the authority said in a statement.
Nonetheless, the GOP signatories to the Jan. 24 letter said that they believe it would be irresponsible to entrust more money to the authority now, and asked that Chao not approve any more federal dollars to support the project until it was thoroughly audited.
State Democrats sent their own letter, dated Feb. 3, asserting that the benefits of the proposed grant are separate from the high-speed rail project, and that the money will support the electrification of existing rail service to allow Caltrain to phase out aging diesel locomotives. The Democrats urged Chao to approve the grant when it reaches the end of its Congressional review period Feb. 18.
Infrastructure investment, including high-speed rail, was a cornerstone of Trump's domestic policy during the presidential campaign. He hasn't commented on whether or not he supports the California project.