Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
During Gov. Gavin Newsom's first State of the State speech Tuesday, he surprised listeners by announcing he will abandon the quest for high-speed rail connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles championed by his predecessor.
Instead, Newsom offered a consolation prize: high-speed rail between Bakersfield and Merced.
"Let's level about the high-speed rail," Newsom said. "Let's be real, the current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, 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."
Recent estimates assessed former Gov. Jerry Brown's plan would be cost about $77 billion and be completed in 2033. Newsom then pivoted to his alternate proposal, to instead connect the two Central Valley cities, 160 miles apart.
"Critics are going to say that's a train to nowhere, but I think that's wrong and that's offensive," said the governor.
He laid out a vague vision of the Central Valley's future that included more than just agriculture, citing the need for more investment in the region.
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"Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield and communities in between are more dynamic than people realize.
The valley may be known around the world for agriculture but there's another story ready to be told."
"Abandoning the high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions and billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises... and lawsuits to show for it," Newsom added, explaining he wouldn't want to send the $3.5 billion in federal money the project has been granted back to the Trump administration.
He alluded to a future where the Central Valley high-speed rail system would be connected to greater California, but didn't offer details.
"Let's get something done once and for all," he said.
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