In late January, the first formal state audit of the California bullet train project was authorized by the legislature’s joint audit committee. The audit was authorized after the rail authority disclosed that the cost of building the first 119 miles of track in the Central Valley would cost $10.6 billion, which is a 77 percent increase of the original estimate of $6 billion. The last time that State Auditor Elaine Howle reviewed the project was in 2012, which revealed a range of problems in management and planning. Unfortunately, the construction work is about seven years behind schedule and is facing challenges acquiring property, designing safety measures and relocating underground utilities.
The audit request had bipartisan support and was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), a longtime bullet train critic, and Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), a supporter of the project. Republicans and Democrats on the panel disagreed on the scope of the audit, however, the committee did vote unanimously for the audit. Opponents of the rail project believe it is likely to need millions to billions of dollars in annual operating subsidies, based on California’s high costs and its projected low fares. However, rail authority executives claim that their ridership models and business plans show a subsidy would not be required. Howle believes the audit would consume 2,600 hours of work and take about seven months to complete at an estimated cost of $344,000. Hopefully, the audit is able to fix some issues with the rail project to make it more efficient.