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California High-Speed Rail Hits A Snag: Fall Start Date In Jeopardy
California's high-speed rail has hit a roadblock as two Republican politicians are asking for an audit into the land purchase process for the $68 billion project.
Assemblymen Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals, want an audit of how 356 parcels of land in the Central Valley were appraised and assessed Fox 11 reports.
Patterson and Bigelow say they want to make sure that landowners have had the opportunity to appeal their property value assessments and that the process "ensure[s] fair and reasonable offers."
"Our valley's farmland and citizen-owned private property can't be replaced, so we have to make sure we get it right the first time because there is no going back," Bigelow said in a news release.
Chief executive Jeff Morales told the Associated Press in July that high-speed rail officials are following the same procedure used by the state's Department of Transportation, which allows landowners to obtain alternate appraisals at the state's expense before filing an appeal.
"The process is intended to make sure that the property owner is treated fairly and strike the right balance between treating the property owner fairly and making sure that the public taxpayer is not overpaying for property," Morales said. The authority has also hired a private firm to help homeowners and businesses relocate.
Construction on the first 30-mile leg of the project, which would run from Madera to Fresno, was set to begin this fall. The land in question hasn't been bought yet, but the High-Speed Rail Authority has made offers to dozens of landowners in the Central Valley, according to Fox.
While Republicans are trying to throw up roadblocks, Democrats are trying to streamline the land purchase process. A bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach would allow rail officials to negotiate property access rights without getting approval from the state Department of General Services, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Meanwhile, the project's environmental standards might now be in the hands of the feds: A federal transportation board ruled that it, not the state, has oversight of the project. That decision is still subject to approval by a federal judge, according to the Contra Costa Times.
The ultimate goal for the rail is to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2029; that ride would take under three hours, according to the project's official site. The system will eventually extend to Sacramento and San Diego, totaling 800 miles with up to 24 stations, the site says, although it doesn't assign a projected end date for that part of the plan.
With delays like this, the ambitious project might not happen in our lifetime.