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Cost of California bullet train jumps by $2.8 billion just in the Central Valley

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Construction workers at a 3,700-foot viaduct that is being built to extend over State Route 99 in Fresno County, near the terminus of the high-speed rail line on Jan. 30, 2017. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The estimated cost of building 119 miles of the California bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget and up from about $6 billion originally.

The new calculation takes into account a number of extremely costly problems encountered by the state rail agency. It raises difficult questions about how the state will complete the massive effort, the largest national infrastructure project, with the existing funding sources.

The new estimate was presented Tuesday by Roy Hill, who leads the main consulting firm on the project, WSP (formerly Parson Brinckerhoff). Hill said the cost increases were mainly driven by problems including higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocated utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for mitigation of myriad issues.

“The worst-case scenario has happened,” Hill said bluntly.

The sharp increase will likely require the California High Speed Rail Authority to return to the state Legislature for a supplemental appropriation from bonds that voters approved in 2008. The remaining bonds would likely cover the cost increases, but partly deplete funds for further construction beyond the Central Valley.

The sobering news about the cost increases was long forewarned, though rail authority Chairman Dan Richard has consistently rejected those warnings. About a year ago, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a secret risk analysis that said costs were rising sharply and could hit $9.5 to $10 billion.

In 2012, WSP briefed a cost analysis for the 2014 business plan, showing sharply higher costs in the Central Valley. The cost estimates were not adopted in the 2014 business plan.

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