Bullet Train Fast-Tracked to Appeals Court

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is there a more maligned state project right now than California's High Speed Rail project?

It started as a great idea: a relatively cheap train would go straight from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 160 minutes. State funding would be limited to $9.95 billion in bonds, with the rest coming from federal and private funding. All funding and environmental reports would be done before construction.

That's what voters signed up for. Unfortunately, that's not what is currently in the works. Back in August, a judge ruled against the California High Speed Rail Authority, ordering them to come up with something more than a hypothetical plan to cover the now-$68 billion cost.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court ordered an expedited review of that ruling, as well as a later ruling, that may have all but derailed the project.

State: We'll Just Use the Feds' Money!

Back in early November, the state shifted tactics, and instead of trying to access the nearly $10 billion in state bond funds, they argued that they could commence construction using the federal funds and that only the legislature, and not the court, could stop the train.

It's not clear if the state is still planning to implement that strategy. If they do, tapping federal grants will trigger billions of dollars in state funding obligations. With an already strained state budget, that sounds like quite the bluff.

Court: Hit the Reset Button on State Funding Plans

If the agency does commence construction, it's not clear where the state funds will come from. Shortly after the state announced the federal funding strategy, the same state judge who criticized the plan in August, Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, ordered the state to completely start over on its state funding plan, reports the Los Angeles Times.

That means delays, at a minimum, for a project that is already a year behind and way over budget. Even if the state does start over on a new funding plan, the requirement of identifying specific sources for all required funds remains. Considering the budget crisis, and the program's previous failure to find non-hypothetical funding, Judge Kenny's ruling may finally, and irreversibly, halt the project.

Cal. Supreme Court: Expedite the Appeal

According to the Times, in a brief order issued earlier this week, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye ordered the appeal to be transferred to the intermediate Court of Appeal in Sacramento, with written arguments due by February 10.

The California High Speed Rail Authority had asked for the rulings to be blocked by March 1, so that construction can commence. Even if the court expedites oral arguments, there is still the possibility of an appeal to the California Supreme Court itself, which would delay the project even further.

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