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High-speed train project running out of money, staff

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on March 24.)

SACRAMENTO -- California's high-speed train project is running short of cash and staff and might not have the resources to keep its office manned or complete an environmental study, its executive director said yesterday.

"We are just this much short of basically closing the door," Mehdi Morshed told members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's board.

Meanwhile, a state Senate committee voted to postpone a public vote on nearly $10 billion in bonds that would help pay for the first leg of the rail project, and environmental groups urged the board to include the Interstate 580 corridor as a possible route for the speedy trains.

Morshed said work on a draft environmental impact report on the 700-mile project cost about $750,000 more than anticipated and that the Department of Finance denied the authority's request for a budget augmentation.

He also said budget cuts will leave the authority with only two full-time staffers, forcing it to close its Sacramento office at times and leaving it strapped to oversee consultants and respond to requests from the public for information.

The Schwarzenegger administration has proposed $1.099 million to fund the authority in the fiscal year that starts July 1, but Morshed said he couldn't guarantee the authority would be able to complete the environmental review on time.

"There is a possibility that if we don't receive (additional) funding and the state has some real difficult financial situation we might not be able to finish the document and we may have to wait," he said.

Lawmakers are facing an overall budget gap of $17 billion as they struggle with how to finance state programs in the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

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