High speed rail project riddled with poor decision-making, says scathing state audit report

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A state audit of California's controversial High Speed Rail project on Thursday revealed poor decision-making led to billions of dollars in cost overruns.

A scathing report by State Auditor Elaine Howle said "flawed decision-making" and "poor contract management" by the agency not only caused it to exceed the budget, but also caused delays in the system's construction.

Bridges and viaducts designed to move the high-speed rail can be found throughout Fresno and Madera counties. But the audit revealed the project has ended up with cost overruns of $600 million for Valley high speed rail construction work, while $1.6 billion was still needed to complete the local projects.

"It is not connectable," said Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno. "We are the canary in the coal mine in central California and we've been screwed."

Patterson said he believes the project is dead in the water.

"The best we can hope for in central California is a rump railroad that runs between just outside Bakersfield and just outside Madera," he added.

The audit criticized the High Speed Rail Authority for starting construction in 2013 before it had a critical plan for the land needed.

But the agency defended its decisions and insisted work will continue on the 21st century high speed rail system.

"Those decisions resulted in California being able to take full advantage of $2.5 billion of federal funding that was available within a finite time period," High Speed Rail Authority board member Mike Rossi said in a statement.

"The Authority will promptly implement all of the Auditor's recommendations."

The audit said formal prerequisites need to be established before construction to prevent cost overruns and delays. If the high speed rail isn't completed by 2022, the federal government can demand its portion of the project back, according to the audit.

That sum now amounts to $3.5 billion.
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