One week after President Trump called California’s high-speed rail project a “‘green’ disaster”, the US Department of Transportation announced plans to cancel $929m in federal grant funds yet to be paid toward the $77bn endeavor.
The department also “it is actively exploring every legal option to seek the return from California of $2.5bn in federal funds FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) previously granted,” according to the statement released Tuesday.
The Federal Railroad Administration determined that the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the state-run organization tasked with overseeing the project “has materially failed to comply with the terms” of the agreement that promised $929m in federal funds for construction, wrote Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald Batory, in a letter to the Brian Kelly, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s chief executive.
The Authority “has failed to make reasonable progress, Batory wrote, and will not complete the project by the end of 2022, as was previously agreed upon, Batory wrote.
In addition, Batory cited Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent remarks during his state of the state address, saying that Newsom “had “presented a new proposal that represents a significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment and frustrates the purpose for which federal funding was awarded.
Newsom had said that “the project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long”. Opponents of the ambitious project interpreted his comments as a declaration that “the train to nowhere has finally stopped” and that Newsom was canceling the leg of the plan that extended the railway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But Newsom’s office later clarified that he meant only that “we have to be realistic about the project”.
In response to his remarks, Trump sent out a tweet asking for the return of “three and a half billion dollars”. Newsom responded by tweeting that the money was “allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back.”
“The train is leaving the station — better get on board!” the governor wrote.
The transportation department’s announcement came one day after California led a coalition of 16 states to sue the Trump administration over the president’s decision to declare a national emergency for border wall funding.