High speed rail cost estimate raising questions

FRESNO, Calif.

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The project is now expected to cost almost $100 billion by the time it's done in 20 years.

They say the project will create 100,000 jobs in the Central Valley alone -- so although the cost estimates are still climbing, the state can't afford not to do it.

The bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles through the Central Valley is still nothing more than an animated dream -- three years after voters approved the project.

The price of the dream has almost doubled since that vote -- from $33 billion to $65 billion in 2010 dollars -- or almost $100 billion with inflation over the next 20 years.

And opponents like Republican Congressman Devin Nunes say it won't stop there.

"I mean, this is just a vicious death cycle that's going to end up being a huge boondoggle," he said. "It's going to give the Valley a black eye and in the meantime, it's not going to create any jobs."

The rail authority says that's not true: construction is supposed to start in Fresno next year and tens of thousands of jobs would follow.

Several people seeking jobs in Fresno Tuesday say they'd jump at the chance to work on the rail line.

"I think it'll help us out a lot," said Daniel Robles, who was willing to take any job he could find. "I mean 100,000 people that are out of work could take it. I mean, I'll try it."

The state has lined up about $13 billion in funding from the federal government and a voter-approved bond, but Nunes says it won't be enough to complete construction and what'll be left behind is uprooted businesses.

Supporters say the lines will be profitable, even if they stand alone, and construction will attract private investment. They compare the rail line to other major projects that came in above budget.

"Who today would argue against the Golden Gate Bridge?" asked Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea. "I think you're going to see high speed rail in that same context 40, 50, 60 years from now."

One problem with that analogy is the golden gate bridge ran about 37% over the initial budget estimate. High speed rail is already about 200% over.

On the other hand, if California doesn't break ground by this time next year, it'll owe the federal government more than $2 billion in stimulus funding.

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