Supervisors Favor Halt to Spending for State’s High-Speed Rail Project

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously voted to support legislation that would halt state spending for the planned $98-billion high-speed rail project.

Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey of Dana Point is trying to create a bipartisan, statewide coalition of cities and counties to support her bill.

Four counties in the Central Valley — Kern, Kings, Madera and Tulare — have voted to officially oppose the Anaheim-to-San Francisco rail project. Harkey’s bill takes a different approach: prohibiting further state funding except what is already committed in contracts when the bill takes effect.

“High-speed rail’s not working,” said Harkey in a telephone interview. “I think it could have been fixed a few years ago, but now it’s too far down the track.”

The rail project was approved by voters in 2008 but has been plagued by management and financial problems and a series of critical reports from state auditors and its own peer review committee.

As a Republican in a legislature dominated by Democrats, Harkey is counting on local governments to provide the support her bill needs to overcome political hurdles. Although several Democrats also have voiced skepticism about continuing the rail project, federal rail officials and Gov. Jerry Brown have been pushing for it to continue.

“I’m trying to rally support,” she said. With statewide polls showing most voters now oppose the project and with all 80 Assembly members and half of the 40-member state Senate up for election, local opposition may translate into legislative support for her bill, Harkey said.

While her bill would prevent spending the remainder of the $9 billion approved by voters for the rail system, it would allow an additional $950 million to be spent on improving local transportation lines.

All five Orange County supervisors also sit on the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority, which has voted to remain neutral on high-speed rail in order to be eligible for any local funds if the project moves ahead.