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California high-speed rail board will take more public comment before decision on plans

Computer-generated image of a potential California high-speed train.
Computer-generated image of a potential California high-speed train.
California High-Speed Rail/Flickr

The board that oversees California's high-speed rail project to link Northern and Southern California has decided to extend the public comment period before adopting a new business plan which changes the course for building the controversial train.

Members of the public will have until Monday, April 25 to weigh in on the new plan before the authority votes on it next week.

The latest proposal calls for a $64 billion system starting in the Central Valley then heading first to San Jose for nearly $21 billion rather than south first to the Los Angeles area as initially planned. California High-Speed Rail Authority officials have pitched that as the only way to ensure a useable segment gets built with the existing funding available.

But it also avoids the expensive and tricky engineering work required to tunnel through the Tehachapi mountains in Southern California and delays those residents' complaints for a while.

The first stretch would begin operating in 2025, three years later and 50 miles shorter than the original planned route that would have first connected to the San Fernando Valley.

The revised business plan has generated renewed criticism from lawmakers and prompted a new wave of oversight legislation, including a bill approved unanimously by the Assembly Transportation Committee this week that would require the rail authority to offer projected financing costs for each segment of its business plan, something it has failed to do so far.

AB2847 by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, also would require rail officials to explain major changes to the business plan.

Still, Gov. Jerry Brown has remained a supporter of the project, which he maintains will help cut carbon emissions.

The project has about $3.2 billion in federal stimulus funds and nearly $10 billion in bond money approved by California voters in 2008. Lawmakers approved the first long-term funding source in the 2014-15 budget, giving the project about $500 million a year from fees charged to polluters.