Report: High speed rail should start in SF or LA

FRESNO, Calif.

Groundbreaking on the first section of the project is still on track for later this year. It will be funded with almost $4-billion dollars in federal money.

But the authors of the report want the state to withhold it's share about $3-billion for at least another year.

While the federal government has pledged money to get the project started from Fresno to Bakersfiled, the report from the High Speed Rail Peer Review Group says: "The fact the funding plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program."

But Steve Geil, a high speed rails supporter and head of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, said both the construction and funding will come in phases, similar to dams and highways. "Well, no major project that goes on in this country, infrastructure project has all of its funding secured. It's done in stages, and so the first stage which starts in the Valley, is funded. The next stage, in five or six years, they'll have to figure out how they fund it."

The Peer Group's Report also says starting in Fresno is risky and suggests building where there are more potential riders. "Improvements on the end sections -- San Jose to San Francisco, and Los Angeles to Anaheim -- would reduce the risk of a stranded project."

Geil sees this as an effort to take the project, and it's jobs away from Fresno. "From the day it was announced that it was coming to the Central Valley the north and south have been trying to get the money. End of story.

The High Speed Rail Authority issued a response to the peer groups report saying, "This report is deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded."

State lawmakers are divided largely, along party lines. Republican Assembly Member Martin Garrick of Carslbad said it's time to kill high speed rail. "I personally am introducing a bill to halt the funding, the future funding of high speed rail."

But Democratic Assembly Leader Fiona Ma sees the report as a small roadblock that will be overcome. And Governor Jerry Brown is expected to push the legislature to keep the funding, which was approved by voters, on track.

The Peer Review Group critical of high speed rail is made up of several legislators, including Republican leader Connie Conway of Visalia. The group believes it's opinion has legal influence on the legislature, but the governors office says it's just an opinion that offers nothing new.

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