The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors approved a $35 million design and support services contract for four Central Valley stations on Thursday to Foster + Partners and Arup (F+P Arup), inflating the $113 billion high-speed rail budget even further.
Originally estimated to cost $33 billion in 2008, costs of the high speed rail system have ballooned to $98 billion, then were cut to $68 billion, and now are back at $113 billion. Completion dates have also been continuously delayed, with the original goal of having the system go from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2028 to well into the 2030’s for a partial completion. Despite numerous setbacks, and more Californians calling the plans into question, construction on the Bakersfield to Merced leg have continued on for the last several years, with overall support for the program still just above 50% in the state.
With both the initial Bakersfield to Merced getting construction approval in August, contract bids subsequently went out for the design and support services for new stations on the route. While the second phase of the project, currently aimed for completion between 2031 and 2033, will utilize existing train stations such as Union Station in Los Angeles and Diridon Station in San Jose, the initial Bakersfield to Merced leg will need to have 4 completely new stations built for the Merced, Fresno, Kings/Tulare and Bakersfield stations.
According to a press release by the Authority, the firms will need to identify right-of-way and utility relocation requirements necessary for construction and then later move onto final design, construction and commissioning. Right-of-way and utility relocation alone is expected to take 30 months to complete.
Despite the additional cost and the longer than usual timetable, the High-Speed Authority touted the route as a major jobs provider on Thursday, as well as helping spur economic development once completed.
“The first four Central Valley high-speed rail stations are one step closer to reality,” said Authority Chairman Tom Richards on Thursday. “High-speed rail stations will transform cities, spur economic development and create community hubs within the heart of our state.”
However, detractors noted on Friday that the approvals made on Thursday only add to the “boondoggle” reputation that the rail line has in the state.
“Usually people are upset at the budget going up by another few billion here and there, but we can’t forget about little increases either, as they add up,” explained transportation industry accountant Derrick Clark to the Globe on Friday. “Things like this are usually set, but there is a lot that can change. There may be delays, which increases costs. A new specialist or advisor or consultant may need to come on board, which increases costs. Specialized equipment or needing to find a new way to inspect may come up, which increases cost.”
“This $35 million was a planned increase, since this is needed work to complete the line. But, as we have seen time and time again with this project, it finds ways to make small costs balloon out to larger costs. And, by the renderings, the station already looks as cheap as possible, so money definitely isn’t going into creativity or taste. Some architect out there really needs to hand back his degree. This is an announcement showing progress, but really it is a warning that more added costs are on the horizon.”
More announcements on progress of the Merced to Bakersfield leg are expected soon.