California GOP asks Trump to halt high-speed rail grants

California GOP asks Trump to halt high-speed rail grants
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California Republicans in Congress are asking the Trump administration to block new grant money for a high-speed railway linking the state’s two metropolitan hubs after federal officials concluded last month that the rail line is likely to cost taxpayers far more than was initially projected.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, California’s 14 Republican members of Congress asked that the administration block $650 million in federal grants the state wants to use to electrify a portion of commuter rail that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. Republicans said the money, which would come on top of more than $3.5 billion in federal funding already granted for construction costs, would be wasted.

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“We think providing additional funding at this time ... would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars,” the Republicans wrote.

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees railroads. The Republicans also asked Chao to begin an audit of the project can be completed.

The fight over the proposed 800 miles of high-speed rail has long pitted California Republicans, who say the project is a government boondoggle, against Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who sees it as a cornerstone to his legacy. The GOP request now gives the Trump administration an opportunity to needle Brown, who has emerged as one of the new president’s most vocal and biting critics.

In an interview on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” on Sunday, Trump said California “in many ways is out of control.”

Entering the final two years of his fourth term in office, Brown is pushing to cement several large-scale projects he views as key to his legacy. Along with the rail line, Brown’s administration is trying to build a series of tunnels that would channel water from the San Francisco area to the parched southern half of the state.

Gray Davis, the former California governor who served as Brown’s chief of staff during his first two terms, said Brown’s goal is to leave office having accomplished those projects, or having laid the foundation for their eventual completion.

“I think he’s interested in nailing down policies, producing real results that people can touch and see,” Davis told The Hill in an interview.

Brown’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

"It’s unfortunate that while Congressional Republicans continue to target the progress of California High Speed Rail with inaccuracies and innuendo, they also chose to take Caltrain electrification hostage. If California Republicans derail the Caltrain upgrade, they will kill over 9,600 jobs and will be to blame for dirtier, slower, and more crowded commutes between San Francsico and Silicon Valley," said Jorge Aguilar, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"While Kevin McCarthy is fundraising in Silicon Valley this week, perhaps he can explain to the contributors why he is fighting to make congestion worse along this key innovation corridor."

The Obama administration provided billions in grant funding through the 2009 stimulus package and an omnibus appropriations measure in 2010.

California voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond to fund the project in 2008.

But since the high-speed rail system was first proposed, costs have ballooned, from about $33 billion to more than $60 billion. A risk assessment from the Federal Railroad Administration, first reported last month by the Los Angeles Times, found that taxpayers could be on the hook for much more than initially estimated for the first segment of the rail line, near Merced.

At the same time, plans to run the line from San Diego all the way to Sacramento have been pared back. The line will now run only from Los Angeles to San Francisco. 

Updated 11:35 a.m.