If the California High Speed Rail Project breaks ground this year on the first 130-mile segment through the Central Valley, it'll have to be built at breakneck speed to meet the federal completion date of September 2017. A missed deadline could mean a loss of federal funding.
At a cost of $6 billion for this initial phase, a Los Angeles Times analysis estimates it would mean spending $3.5 million a day -- the fastest burn rate for transportation construction in U.S. history. That's assuming there are no permitting or environmental delays.
"Our problem has been the planning has not been very good. And now we're going to try and spend money quicker than another construction project in the history of the United States and do it effectively and efficiently is a huge concern," said St. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.
Rail administrators admit their plan is aggressive, but not unprecedented, and point out $1.3 billion of the initial funding is not under deadline. They point out the Bay Bridge retrofit has a burn rate of $1.8 million a day. And Salt Lake City improved Interstate 15 for the 2002 Olympics at a hurried pace, burning $1.6 million a day. But that project had a strong management team in place. High Speed Rail hasn't had a CEO or CFO for months.
The High Speed Rail Authority says it's ramping up its staff of 37 now, including an engineer who helped build Taiwan's system, and it's confident Phase One can be built on time.
"The contractors, the people who are preparing the bids right now, if they didn't think they could do it, they wouldn't be spending $6-$8 million each to put these massive bids together," said Dan Richard, the High Speed Rail Authority chairman.
A peer review group cautioned the Transportation Committee that more needs to be done to ensure the project's success.
Lawmakers vote this summer on whether to approve state bond money for the bullet train's first leg.