- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A document obtained by The Los Angeles Times says the first leg of California’s $64 billion high-speed rail project could cost as much as $3.6 billion more than previous estimates and take years longer to build.

The newspaper reported the details Friday of a confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis that shows in a worst-case scenario, it could cost up to $10 billion to build bridges, viaducts, trenches and track on 118 miles from Merced to Shafter, up from $6.4 billion. The newspaper says it was labeled as a “draft deliberative document.”

California High-Speed Rail Authority officials said the analysis includes outdated information and is being mischaracterized.

“It is a dynamic tool that we go back-and-forth with them on, to manage the program, not to make conclusions or forecasts,” Morales said. “It’s an output of assumptions that they’ve plugged into there based on some modeling.”

Businesses and government agencies typically perform risk analyses to assess potential dangers. Morales said the rail authority is constantly doing its own risk analyses and updating them regularly to identify and fix problems before they occur. He said those conclusions are presented to the board that oversees the rail authority and the public at its monthly board meetings.

The federal agency is overseeing $3.5 billion in stimulus money that has been awarded to the project. California faces a September 2017 deadline to spend the federal stimulus money, but Morales and other rail executives have said the state expects to meet the deadline.

Voters approved nearly $10 billion for a California high-speed rail project as part of Proposition 1A in 2008, then projected to cost $40 billion.

Officials last year approved a new business plan that calls for trains to begin operating in 2025, three years later and 50 miles shorter than the original planned route that would have first connected to the San Fernando Valley.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been a steadfast supporter of the rail project, and his administration negotiated the first long-term funding source for it, giving it about $500 million a year from fees charged to polluters.

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This item has been corrected to reflect the total current project cost estimate is $64 billion, not $68 billion.

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