- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s latest plan for a $64 billion high-speed railway lacks “beef” - the details that could spur additional investment in the project, state lawmakers said Monday.

“We want to see a strategy, like how are we going to get from here to there,” Sen. Jim Beall, D- San Jose, the Senate transportation committee chairman, told leaders of the High Speed Rail Authority. “I’d like to see more beef.”

The authority in February released a new business plan that calls for constructing the first 250-mile segment from rural Shafter to San Jose at a cost of nearly $21 billion. The first stretch would 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.

“I think ‘Where’s the beef’ is a good comment,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who praised the plan to build north first but said major questions remain. She is chairwoman of a transportation budget committee that joined in Monday’s joint Senate hearing. Assembly members were also critical during a separate hearing a week ago.

The senators echoed the state’s independent legislative analyst, which last month said lawmakers should require more detailed planning on each segment’s cost, scope and schedule.

Authority Chairman Dan Richard and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales promised to provide more information. But Richard said despite the uncertainty over the project’s long-term funding, momentum is building because “We are now in construction, building America’s first high speed rail system.”

The project has about $3.2 billion in federal stimulus funds and nearly $10 billion in bond money approved by California voters in 2008. Lawmakers approved the first long-term funding source in the 2014-15 budget, giving the project about $500 million a year from fees charged to polluters.

Other ways of making money might include profiting from development and real estate growth around high speed rail stations or using the right of way for fiber optic cable, Richard said.

“We have even started to scratch the surface yet,” he said.

Lawmakers long opposed to the project again warned that the project may ultimately fail.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, for instance, called the financing “very shaky.”

“It seems like we’re almost careening down the tracks,” he said, instead of relying on a well-thought out plan with stable financing.

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