California

Top Calif. lawmaker slams sluggish high-speed rail build: “Maybe they can turn it into a sculpture…”

As Congress works to finalize the largest infrastructure spending bill in decades, a growing number of state lawmakers in Sacramento have begun to raise doubts about California’s biggest venture, the high-speed rail project.

After years of years of battling with property owners, the Trump administration and a global pandemic, California’s High Speed Rail Authority finds itself fighting resistance from state lawmakers even as the project is starting to show obvious progress on the ground.

Visitors along Highway 99 can now easily see the skeleton of the high-speed rail line finally taking form in the Central Valley. Viaducts and cranes outline the initial 171-mile segment that’s expected to take riders from Merced to Bakersfield by 2029 when it’s finished.

Even with that progress, a growing number of decisionmakers in Sacramento say the project remains headed in the wrong direction.

“I think the, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ theory is pure fantasy,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told NBC Bay Area. “They will come where? How will they magically appear in Merced?”

A Democrat representing Los Angeles County, Rendon fears residents in his district may never see any benefits from high-speed rail at least as it’s presently situated.

After touring the project’s construction earlier this summer, Rendon said he’s seen very little progress toward completion.

“You see that same piece of track that I saw last year and the year before and the year before that and the year before that,” Rendon said. “[That structure] seems to be this monument to high-speed rail. Maybe they can turn it into a sculpture if we don’t go much further than where we are right now.

“I’m worried that we’re dead in the water. I’m also worried that we have what would be a laughing stock for California.”

Speaker Rendon wants to divert the rest of the money earmarked for high-speed rail to upgrade existing public transit systems like Caltrain and Metrolink.

He told NBC Bay Area that he believes there’s now enough opposition in the legislature to the project that he has the votes to do it.

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.