The California High-Speed Rail Authority may be swimming gracefully like swans on calm water but below the water line they are paddling furiously to keep the project afloat.
The question which will they run out of first? Time or money?
It was reported in several recent news stories that construction would begin in July but that is clearly not going to happen. John Popov’s, project manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority changed his testimony in a central valley court case. He first predicted a construction late 2013, early 2014. He scratched out his language about the possibility of construction beginning in 2014. But Mr.Popov was probably right to begin with since Authority records show March 2014. This was revealed in a public records request response that showed the Initial Construction Segment schedule which was sent to Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD).
The Design/Build Contracts:
So the bids are in for the first 29 miles of the 130 mile segment the High-Speed Rail Authority is attempting to build. News reports say that the price for those bids will not be looked at until the actual content of the work is reviewed. The cost of the construction is isolated in a locked barrel, the key is held only by the contractor.
It will be apparently at least another 4- 6 weeks before the price tag on the bids is known. This is supposed to be common practice for major projects so as not to influence the rating of the actual construction bid. The construction cost does not include the buying of properties as well as the mitigation costs.
And by the way, if you’re not chosen you get $2 million dollars for your bid efforts. This is supposed to be another common practice since it does cost a lot of money to put together bids for mega projects.
The Authority states it will take 2 months to examine construction bids and only then will they look and see what the cost figures are. So best case scenario is they won’t be able to award a contract until at the earliest April 2013 and there may be other federal deadlines that delay this award even further.
Understand no one starts building at the point; the “winner” has to finish the design. Also properties still have to be acquired before building can occur.
In Department of Transportation (DOT) documents, the construction bills are supposed to be delivered to them by March 2017 not September 2017 in order to process the bills, a full six months before the expiration date in order to qualify for the federal funds.
See LA Times article by Ralph Vartabedian on the reality of the time crunch and the general mess of things. http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-74179235/
In addition SB 1029 requires this, “Prior to awarding a contract to commence construction of the first construction segment, a report certifying that the amount awarded under the contract is within the budgeted funding and is consistent with the completion schedule deadlines set by the federal Department of Transportation.
How will the Department of Transportation (DOT) respond? It is crucial for the project in order to access state bond fund that the Federal Government believes the project will finish on time.
But then that brings up another can of worms, exactly what is the project. There are no set city to city connections for the beginning and end of the project that the HSR Authority must achieve- just construction crossing two corridors in the Central Valley, Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield- estimated in the early days at 130 miles but it must have independent utility. This is only required by federal statute in order to insure if no more money is forthcoming and nothing else is built that what is built will have purpose. For this project it represents knocking off 45 minutes of the current Amtrak route. So this means the connection from the old route to the newly built tracks must be built. But another place where state and federal law differ is the state requirement that whatever is built using state bond funds must be high-speed rail ready and they won’t be.
In earlier days, we heard board members say that September 2012 was the deadline to start the project but later it was revealed it was just a progress date, a goal that did not have the impact of law but now it’s becoming a practical matter. What can be built in three years? With an estimate of a March 2014 start date and a March 2017 bill submission date at the end of the project, most think it is impossible to have a majority of the ICS built. Note: There are funds that are not ARRA funds that do not have the above deadline and if spent last the Authority could push over the time line using those funds.
So the answer to the question, which will they run out of first, time or money? The answer is time since according to Roy Kienitz (now gone) Undersecretary for Policy of the US DOT in a letter written May 25, 2011," they have no authority to change this deadline and do not believe it’s prudent to assume Congress will change it."