The Latest: Lawmakers grill high-speed rail project leaders

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The Latest on an audit of California's high-speed rail program (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

A representative from California's High-Speed Rail Authority is defending the decision to begin construction of tracks in the Central Valley without all necessary approvals in hand.

Board vice chairman Tom Richards spoke Thursday to a panel of California lawmakers about a recent audit of the plan to build a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Richards says he agrees with auditors' findings the authority has a poor contract management structure. Richards says its "troubling and embarrassing" that contractors hired by the authority haven't properly documented their work. He says the authority is already making changes to its management structure and accepts the auditors' findings.

State auditor Elaine Howle says lawmakers and the public should be "very concerned" about the project's status.

Its cost has ballooned to an estimated $77 billion and its completion date pushed back to 2033. Richards says the building timeline was essential to access several billion in federal money.

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9 a.m.

California lawmakers are set to discuss a scathing audit of the state's ambitious high-speed rail project.

The report released in mid-November found poor contract management and decision making drove billions of dollars in cost overruns and years of delays. Lawmakers will question the auditor and rail officials Thursday.

California is attempting to build a rail line that will shuttle passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. It's still 15 years from completion and now slated to cost $77 billion. That's almost double the original cost projections.

State auditor Elaine Howle found high turnover and little oversight among people who manage hundreds of rail-related contracts. The audit also faults the California High-Speed Rail Authority for beginning construction in the Central Valley without all approvals in hand.

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