An artist's rendering of California's high-speed rail. Courtesy the High-Speed Rail Authority
An artist's rendering of California's high-speed rail. Courtesy the High-Speed Rail Authority

The High-Speed Rail Authority unanimously approved a revised business plan Thursday afternoon in San Francisco. Board members voted 6-0, with one absent vote, to trim costs by about $30 billion.

The project is now estimated to cost about $68.4 billion — far more than what voters agreed to in 2008 when they authorized the project.

Vice Chairman Dan Richard praised the plan for cutting costs by using existing rail lines.

“This plan [ties] high-speed rail… to regional and local transportation systems in a much stronger fashion than our draft plan did, both in the Central Valley, here in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Southern California,” Richard said.

Chairman Bob Balgenorth said the project would put thousands of people to work and bring California into the future.

“It’s time for us to catch up with the rest of the world,” Balgenorth said. “We used to be the leaders of transportation in California. We’ve fallen behind. But this is an opportunity to move forward.”

Fernando Santillan, 26, came to board meeting from Fresno to support the project. Santillan says he would use high-speed rail for business. He believes it would help keep young professionals and university graduates in Fresno, rather than losing them to more bustling cities.

“There’s a lot of talent in Fresno that would benefit from connecting to other like-minded professionals in the major cities, including San Jose, LA, San Francisco,” he said. “And that would just exponentially increase our productivity, our creativity and the ideas we get from other cultural centers.”

Most of the public speakers voiced strong support for the new plan, but a few, like Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail member Kathy Hamilton, opposed the project. Hamilton  says the current plan is not the idea sold to voters back in 2008, and that the project is too expensive. Hamilton also doesn’t believe ridership will be strong.

The plan will now go before the state legislature, where lawmakers will decide whether to authorize bonds to start construction.

Revised High-Speed Rail Plan Heads to the Legislature 12 April,2012Caitlin Esch

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