CHSRA Provides 2023 Project Update Report, Cost Estimates Balloon

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently released its 2023 Project Update Report in order to fulfill its biennial requirement to update the California Legislature on the development and implementation of intercity high-speed rail service.

The March 1 release of the report also fulfills the authority’s commitments made in its 2022 Business Plan to provide updates on the following: baseline budget and schedule; capital cost estimates; funding strategy; ridership forecasts; environmental clearance; and steps to advance design on extensions to Merced, Bakersfield, and Central Valley stations, as reported by Railway Age

According to the report, the authority—whose mission is to deliver an electrified high-speed rail system that will transport commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours—has secured $3.5 billion in federal funds since state voters approved a $9 billion investment for the system in 2008. The state has since provided annual funding for the Cap-and-Trade Program, which expires in 2030.

Courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority

Major accomplishments in 2022, according to the report, included environmental clearance for all segments between San Francisco and Palmdale (Los Angeles County) and between Burbank and Los Angeles—422 miles. 

The report states that 100% of the civil infrastructure design work on the 119-mile Central Valley Segment has been completed, 71% of all utility relocations are in progress, and 96% of the right-of-way has been delivered to contractors.

The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant agreement was amended to align the authority’s revised schedule with the expectations of its federal partner. Contracts were awarded to initiate advanced design work on the Bakersfield and Merced extensions. A contract was also awarded to start design work on the authority’s four Central Valley stations: Merced, Fresno, Kings/Tulare, and Bakersfield.

For 2023, the authority projects that project milestones will include more than 10,000 jobs created since construction commenced. According to the report, CHSRA anticipates that construction Package 4 will be substantially completed by summer.

In addition, the authority expects its Palmdale to Burbank environmental document to be certified in the fourth quarter. The Bakersfield and Merced extensions should have a draft configuration footprint (30% design) by the fourth quarter, with a right-of-way acquisition plan, utility relocation plan, and third-party agreements in place.

The authority is also aiming for a new procurement strategy for the completed track and systems, as well as a Request for Qualifications to the Board of Directors, the report said. 

The report also includes updated cost figures for the 171-mile initial segment, which have risen to $35 billion, exceeding secured funding by $10 billion. 

The cost of that partial system is now higher than the $33 billion estimate for the entire 500-mile Los Angeles to San Francisco system when voters approved a bond in 2008, according to a KVPR report. The full system cost is estimated at up to $128 billion in the report, leaving politicians to consider a funding gap of more than $100 billion.

According to the report, the date for operating the 171-mile system could be pushed back to 2033 from 2030, delaying public benefits and adding to cost pressures. The report also indicated a 25% reduction in projected future ridership as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a decrease in California’s expected population growth.