Politics & Government

Is California's high-speed rail plan another 'bridge to nowhere?'

FRESNO — The plan for high-speed rail in California is to start on the Fresno side of the San Joaquin River, between Bakersfield and Chowchilla, and go until the money runs out.

The Central Valley, for many reasons, is a practical place to begin. The land is broad and flat and relatively inexpensive, and the federal government, which is contributing billions of dollars, requires it.

The first section will one day form the spine of a system connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, officials say. But there is no money guaranteed to build the rest, and the initial tracks, through towns like Wasco and Madera, are conspicuously far from where most people live.

For the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the location has become a political and public relations challenge.

"It's a 'Bridge to Nowhere,' " said Adriana Gianturco, who was California's transportation director three decades ago when the state first considered high-speed rail.

A bridge to nowhere, she said, "does not gain political support."

Farmers on the line are calling lawyers and organizing opposition, and criticism is intensifying at the Capitol.

Last month, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said the rail authority's financial assumptions are optimistic and its management inadequate. It cited "significant risk" that the project will never be finished, and suggested starting in Los Angeles or the Bay Area in case nothing else is built.

Rail officials are undeterred. They plan to release a new business plan in October, including updated financial and ridership projections.

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