Will Kempton, chairman of the Peer Review Group advising California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, said Thursday he’s receiving positive reaction to a report that detailed issues the state must resolve as it tries to build the Anaheim-to-San Francisco train system.

Kempton, who is the CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, didn’t list names, but he said “most of the feedback that I’ve gotten [from those concerned with the project], people say, yeah, this makes sense, these are valid points.”

Kempton and the five other transportation experts on the Peer Review Group issued a report July 1 that listed specifics for the political leaders on the high-speed rail board and members of the Legislature to follow.

Among the most pressing is development of a business plan that is due Oct. 1. The rail board has had months of management problems and only about four months to actually prepare the plan.

“It needs to be done as soon as possible,” said Kempton in a telephone interview, “and it needs to address some of the issues we’ve been raising.”

The project is racing to qualify for about $4 billion in federal stimulus money. Groundbreaking is planned in the Central Valley next year.

Board members and Kempton have said that the project was hindered by a lack of state staff to oversee the work of contractors but that the new state budget should give them the money to resolve that issue.

In the past, subcontractors on the $43-billion to $65-billion project were paid millions of dollars without submitting invoices, just one of the many problems that have plagued the planned system.

“Mega projects are extremely complicated, and they don’t go smoothly,” said Kempton. “Mega projects are very, very challenging.”

One of the worst recent examples of a big project gone bad is Boston’s “Big Dig,” a tunnel project that was plagued by billions of dollars in cost overruns and a death. The main contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, also is the main contractor for California’s high-speed rail project.

Kempton said the Peer Group has a “good working relationship” with the California high-speed rail staff, including CEO Roelof van Ark.

“I think they understand and agree the issues we’ve raised need to be addressed,” he said.


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