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Did $98.5 billion high-speed rail project just hit a wall in California?

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Officials at the California High-Speed Rail Authority have been swift with a curt response to the panel’s review, calling it a “narrow, inaccurate and superficial assessment” in a letter to lawmakers.

“What is most unfortunate about this report is not its analytical deficiency, but that it would create a cloud over the program that threatens not only federal support but also the confidence of the private sector necessary for them to invest their dollars,” said Thomas Umberg, chairman of the rail authority board.

The dispute in California could be instructive for other rail projects nationwide. In February, Vice President Joe Biden announced a plan to put $53 billion in federal funds into a national, high-speed rail network, which could be built in regional sections. California was to be the first state to receive matching funds. 

The negative recommendation is bad news for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has stated he will ask legislators in coming months to issue the initial cluster of $9 billion in voter-approved bonds. He also must confront supporters of the project who say it will create jobs, aid the environment, and jumpstart the state’s ailing economy.

In a year-end group interview with reporters, Governor Brown said last week that he favors moving ahead.

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