I guess it was inevitable. By switching the initial route from Southern California to Northern California in the hopes of salvaging the system, High Speed Rail Authority leaders have unleashed political angst in Southern California, per Greenwire (paywall):
That initial segment would use up all existing funds, and there’s no clear source for the remaining money. Southern California supporters worry that their region will be left out of the system if it can’t be extended.
“You can’t say you can do something without saying how you are going to pay for it,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. “This is a must. If you don’t have the money in the bank, I understand that. But you can’t assume the money is going to fall from the sky. You have to have a path. You can’t be silent totally.”
Ikhrata added, “If they build a system that fails to connect Los Angeles, this will be the biggest failure of an infrastructure project we have ever had in the state of California. It will be sad for future generations.”
That last quote is unfortunately more likely than many people admit. The system badly needs to find cash somewhere, but no investors will step up with so much uncertainty and such an economically inefficient route.
The most recent play may be to dangle the possibility of connecting this initial segment to Bakersfield and up to San Francisco, in the hopes of enticing House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to pony up a couple billion extra federal dollars. But McCarthy seems unlikely to go for it, given the intense opposition to the project among his base.
So state leaders will carry on, burning through the state bond money, federal grant, and cap-and-trade funds — and assuming that ongoing litigation doesn’t go against them. Perhaps if they can at least stay the course for another few years, the politics will change at the federal level to unlock more cash. Or extending state cap-and-trade beyond 2020 may provide assurance for private investors.
Because otherwise, this project may truly become the biggest infrastructure failure California has ever seen.