California High Speed Rail CEO, Roelof van Ark, resigns

FRESNO, Calif.

California is just months away from the target date for getting started on its high speed rail line. Supporters say construction would have to start this year for the state to keep about $2 billion in federal funding.

"We're hitting the last critical phase of high speed rail," said Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea. "The next six months are going to be the most critical."

But the project is hitting some snags as the marathon becomes a sprint. Cost projections have tripled, public opinion has swayed toward opposition, and Thursday, High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark decided to quit.

Perea was at the meeting in Los Angeles where van Ark announced his resignation. He says the erstwhile CEO has done a great job on the technical details of the project, but now the rail authority needs to focus on public relations.

"They talked a lot about public outreach (Thursday)," Perea said. "Now, it's, 'Let's drive it home. Let's make sure we answer all the questions and concerns people have.' So, I think the team is just shifting now."

Opponents have momentum for now, though. A new bill in Sacramento would de-fund the bullet train, and a state senator is also trying to force a new statewide vote.

Fresno business owner Jeff Tanielian would lose about half his property to the high speed rail. He hopes van Ark's decision signals a turning tide.

"I would like to think that man came to his senses," Tanielian said. "He was on a train going nowhere and it's time to get off. We hope the other politicians and folks that are backing this thing will really see that it's impacting our community."

Despite van Ark's resignation, high speed rail supporters in the Central Valley got some good news in L.A. The board took a big step toward guaranteeing local hiring if and when construction begins.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.