SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom
declared Tuesday there "isn't a path" for completing the state's plan
for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, yet his
office insisted he is fully committed to building such a project.
Newsom, delivering his first State of the State address,
said he'd shift his focus to completing just a 171-mile segment of the line
already under construction in the state's Central Valley. The project is key to
the economic vitality of the state's agricultural heartland, he said.
A high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles to San Francisco
was the goal when voters approved a ballot measure in 2008. The roughly
520-mile line initially was estimated to cost $33 billion and was pegged for
completion in 2020. Officials eventually hoped to connect the line to San Diego
Subsequent estimates more than doubled the cost to $77
billion and pushed the timeline to 2033.
"Let's be real," Newsom said. "The project,
as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. … Right now, there
simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San
Francisco to L.A. I wish there were."
Newsom said he'd continue doing environmental reviews for
the LA-San Francisco line and seek private investment to connect the Central
Valley to the state's major hubs, prompting confusion about whether he actually
was changing the policy of his predecessor, Jerry Brown.
Newsom's spokesman Nathan Click said the governor is
committed to completing the longer line with additional private and federal
money "as the Central Valley section demonstrates the viability of the
The questions about Newsom's rail plans clouded his first
State of the State address in which he outlined his vision for leading the
nation's most populous state. California, he said, faces "hard decisions
that are coming due" on clean water, housing and homelessness.
Newsom used the speech to contrast his administration with
Brown's as much as he did to take issue with President Donald Trump. He blasted
the president's views on immigration -- Newsom called the border emergency "a
manufactured crisis" -- but also complimented Trump's calls for lowering
prescription drug costs.
Trump has criticized California's high-speed rail plan.
Newsom said the state risked having to return $3.5 billion in federal money if
building stops on the Central Valley leg or it doesn't complete the
environmental reviews. Rail leaders have long said they do not have enough
state money to complete the line. Private investment has been tied to getting
more government investment.
Newsom did not provide any fresh details about how he
planned to leverage or gather private money in a way his predecessors could
His speech left lawmakers with different interpretations of
how the project would move forward.
Democratic state Sen. Anna Caballero, who represents part of
the Central Valley, called the shift to a line only from Bakersfield to Merced "disappointing."
But she said she hopes to see that line connected to other state hubs at some
"People need to see it move to really feel like it's
important," she said.
Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Fresno said Newsom's
comments were an acknowledgement the full train would never be completed.
"It cannot be achieved, and the governor has
essentially admitted it," he said. "This entire thing has now changed
from whether or not there's going to be a high-speed rail to what's going to be
left for central California."
Newsom rejected the idea that his plan would create a "train
to nowhere" and said building in the Central Valley would help revitalize
the economically depressed region. He also replaced Brown's head of the state
board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors
that run over costs by putting information about how rail dollars are spent
Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed.