Lawmakers to discuss scathing high-speed rail audit

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Lawmakers on Thursday will discuss a scathing audit of California's ambitious project to build a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The report released in mid-November found poor contract management and decision-making drove billions of dollars in cost overruns and years of delays.

The project originally slated to cost $40 million now has a $77 billion price tag and is scheduled for completion in 2033, years behind schedule.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a fierce critic of the project, and Democratic Sen. Jim Beall requested the audit.

The audit's results come as Gov. Jerry Brown, a strong defender of the project, is preparing to leave office. Gavin Newsom, his successor, has expressed concern about long-term funding for the plan.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has about $28 billion for the project, short of what's needed to complete the first segment from the Central Valley to San Francisco.

State auditor Elaine Howle's report faulted the construction timeline and management structure. The authority broke ground in the Central Valley in 2013, before it had all the land it needed or had relocated necessary utilities. The cost of contracts keeps rising as changes are made.

The audit also found high turnover and little oversight among the roughly five dozen people that manage hundreds of contracts. Many are not state employees and may not have the state's best interests at heart, the audit found.

Patterson, who requested the audit, plans to question rail officials Thursday about a "Plan B" for the project if completion becomes impossible.

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