In an odd bit of timing, the California High-Speed Rail Authority executed the contract for design and construction of the first 30-mile phase of light rail construction along the Madera to Fresno segment right around the same time a Superior Court of California ruled that the funding plan for the rail line is invalid.
The $985-million contract (plus $53 million in provisional sums) will build part of the 130-mile Initial Construction Section (ICS), a 130-mile segment from Bakersfield to Fresno. Funding for the ICS was identified in the Authority’s funding plan, approved in Nov. 2011. However, the court ruling contends that the Authority was obligated by Proposition 1A (approved by voters in 2008) to identify funding for a larger section of rail, a 290-mile section called the Initial Operating Sections (IOS).
“The Court concludes that the Authority abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of law,” writes Judge Michael P. Kenny in the ruling. “Specifically, the identification of the sources of all funds to be invested in the IOS and the certification regarding completion of necessary project level environmental clearances did not comply with” the requirements set forth in Proposition 1A," he adds.
In addition, the Court found that the Authority must complete the necessary environmental clearances for the entire IOS prior to the expenditure of funds begins.
However, the court stops short of invalidating the entire high-speed endeavor, saying that the Authority’s non-compliance with the funding plan doesn’t necessarily render the Legislature’s subsequent funding appropriation as invalid. The ruling puts off until a later time what exactly is the appropriate remedy for the situation, and the court has asked both sides to submit additional briefings.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the $985-million contract signed with Tutor Perini Corp., and joint venture partners Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio and Parsons Corp., Pasadena, will result in actual construction work, since the ruling points out that Proposition 1A says that prior to committing any proceeds of bonds for the project, the Authority must “prepare and approve a second funding plan and submit it to the Director of Finance and the Chairperson of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, along with a report prepared by independent parties.” The Authority may not enter into commitments to expend bond funds and accept offered commitments from private parties until the Director of Finance finds that the plan is likely to be successfully implemented as proposed, according to the court’s reading of the proposition language.
Petitioners filing the challenge to the high-speed rail funding plan included John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and Kings County.