California Sues Feds to Keep $1 Billion for Bullet Train

FILE – In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, one of the elevated sections of the high-speed rail is under construction in Fresno, Calif. The Trump administration cancelled nearly $1 billion in federal money for California’s high-speed rail project Thursday, May 16, 2019, further throwing into question the future of the ambitious plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California sued the Trump administration in federal court Tuesday to block cancellation of nearly $1 billion in funding for the high-speed rail project.

“While this project has long been a political football our determination to get the work done to bring high speed rail to California is undaunted,” said Lenny Mendonca, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board, during Tuesday’s regular meeting. “This project is the right thing to do from a mobility, environmental and economic standpoint. It’s right for California and the nation.”

The Trump administration revoked about $929 million in federal funding last week, saying California won’t meet its commitment to build a 119-mile line through the Central Valley by 2020.

Governor Gavin Newsom criticized the move by Trump, saying the attempted clawback is retribution for the state’s resistance to Trump’s immigration policies.

The state made the same argument in its federal lawsuit Tuesday, noting Trump took to Twitter to lambaste the project a day after California sued the Trump administration to invalidate the president’s declaration of an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion,” Trump tweeted Feb. 19, 2019.

A minute later, Trump linked funding the rail network to his oft-promised border wall, tweeting the “failed Fast Train project in California . . . is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall”, the state says in its lawsuit.

The Federal Railroad Administration sent California a terse letter later that day indicating it would cut off the grant.

California says the decision was a violation of the railroad administration’s policies and procedures and runs contrary to an agreement in place between the federal agency and the state.

During Tuesday’s meeting, high-speed rail authority board members said completing the Central Valley portion of the project without the federal money will be a challenge. The project continues to grapple with cost overruns and concerns over future funding.

In January, Newsom announced the state would focus on building a line from Bakersfield to Merced, while pursuing environmental work on the full line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“Let’s be real,” he said during the State of the State. “The current project, as planned, would take too long and cost too much.”

At the time many interpreted the remarks as the Governor abandoned the pet infrastructure project of his predecessor, but he has since maintained his support for high-speed rail in California.

Federal officials and persistent critics of the project, many of them Republican state lawmakers, said the project was altered from what was initially promised voters and taxpayers and should be cancelled.

A California State Auditor report cautioned state officials that failing to meet the 2022 deadline for the completion of the Central Valley line carries the risk of losing out on federal grants.

The lawsuit, filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is California’s 50th against the Trump administration. The state seeks an order invalidating the clawback of the high-speed rail funds as arbitrary, capricious and an illegal abuse of discretion.

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