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High Speed Rail Authority Comes Under Fire Following State Audit

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High Speed Rail Image (www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov)

Artist’s rendering of a California High Speed Rail train. (cahighspeedrail.ca.gov)

AnnaDuckworth20100909_KCBS_0483r Anna Duckworth
Anna started her broadcasting career at KCBS in 1994, a few mont...
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SACRAMENTO (KCBS/AP) – The California High Speed Rail Authority dealt a setback to proponents who hoped to see the bullet train zip through the Bay Area sooner rather than later.

The authority announced Thursday that federal regulators required the first $4.3 billion in stimulus funding for the project to be spent on segments linking Fresno to either Merced, 50 miles north, or Bakersfield, 100 miles south.

KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:

State officials originally wanted the first segment to be built between Los Angeles and Anaheim in Orange County.

Ultimately, the $43 billion project would stretch from San Francisco and Anaheim. The train’s full speed would be 220 mph.

Also this week, the project made headlines for a critical report about the authority’s handling of taxpayer money.

“There was an audit that was conducted recently that showed a number of problems in terms of appropriate accounting, appropriate responsibility in oversight of the contracts that were conducted and it’s a problem,” explained Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo).

Specifically, the audit by California’s Inspector General found a number of cost oversights, including the payment of thousands of excess dollars for public relations work.

“They paid the bill without checking those numbers,” said Hill. “Well, that’s not right, it’s not the way we should do business, it’s not the way anyone should handle and oversee and control taxpayers’ dollars.”

The audit came several days after a Los Angeles Times report alleged that rail authority officials took overseas trips, which were paid for by companies who may have wanted contracts related to the project.

The report also alleged that two board members received tens of thousands of dollars from companies with a financial stake in the project.

“The project has been plagued almost weekly with one new troubling disclosure or revelation after another,” warned Hill. “And all this is doing is undermining the already tarnished public opinion of the project to this point.”

He planned to introduce legislation that would place the High Speed Rail Authority to be on a list of state agencies required by law to disclose any potential conflict of interest.

“We need to redouble our efforts and the authority needs to redouble their efforts to ensure that there’s public confidence and transparency. Otherwise, the taxpayers will become fed up and I think stop this project in its tracks.”

“My fear is that with each disclosure, you know, vitally needed public support is being eroded even more and more.”

The entire 800-mile train line was expected to be completed in 2020.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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