Gov. Gavin Newsom met privately Wednesday with the mayors of Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield to clarify his vision of high-speed rail, which he said very much still includes a Valley-to-Valley vision.
The trip came just a day after Newsom ignited headlines by announcing during his State of the State speech the scaling back of the state’s multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project. The governor expressed confidence in a rail line between Merced and Bakersfield being completed, but said that the money and plans necessary to build from Sacramento to San Diego or even San Francisco to Los Angeles simply was not there.
Two of the mayors said Wednesday they were pleased with Newsom’s honesty and willingness to meet with three San Joaquin Valley Republicans and speak frankly about the project’s future.
Shortly after their meeting, Newsom told The Bee he was confident the Merced to Bakersfield line would not only be completed by 2027, but that it would also connect to Silicon Valley at some point after.
“It was just interesting reading the headlines,” Newsom said. “They were actually different than a lot of the articles, but the headlines were a little bit — aggressive.”
Many news outlets reported Newsom’s statements as a death knell for the project.
“Look, my whole point is to get this project back on track,” Newsom said. “We’re way over our estimates in terms of costs and timelines, and people are frustrated. And people have a right to be not just frustrated but angry about it.”
Newsom said he had not spoken to former Gov. Jerry Brown, who long championed high-speed rail in his eight years in office, about his decisions for the project. He said he imagined Brown would be “enthusiastic because I actually want to get something done.”
“We had this buckshot approach in the past where a lot was happening and nothing was happening,” he continued. “We were investing here and there and at the end, we were going to be out of money with quite literally nothing to show for it except for angst, frustration and finger-pointing.”
Newsom said after meeting with the mayors that he sought to be “honest and sober” about high-speed rail’s future.
“Right now, it’s a project — with the money that we’ve identified — that can be completed between Merced and Bakersfield,” he said. “At the same time, we can anchor the future by concurrently doing the environmental work to get it Valley to Valley and ultimately make a case, once it’s completed here in 2027, for the private sector and the federal government to get it down to Los Angeles.”
The Merced to Bakersfield project can be completed with the $9.95 billion left in the bond and filled out by cap-and-trade, Newsom said. He said he was not concerned at all by a probable federal audit or by the possibility of federal or state money being reclaimed.