SACRAMENTO — The Trump administration cancelled nearly $1 billion Thursday in federal money for California’s high-speed rail project, further throwing into question the future of the ambitious plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom immediately pledged to take the administration to court, though the state has not yet filed a lawsuit.
The “action is illegal and a direct assault on California,” Newsom said in an emailed statement. “This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”
The official word of the funding cancellation by the Federal Railroad Administration came several months after President Donald Trump first threatened to withdraw it.
His comments came in response to Newsom shifting the project’s immediate focus to a 171-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley, saying there currently wasn’t a path for the full line.
Newsom later said he was still committed to building the entire line but wanted to take a “building blocks” approach that first created a working line in the Central Valley.
The state has only about $20 billion available for the project at this time, far short of the estimated $77 billion it would take to complete it.
Newsom has characterized Trump’s threats to the project as retribution against California for resisting various Trump administration policies.
While the $929 million is a critical piece of the funding plan, the state did not plan to spend it until 2021. If a court battle over the money drags on, that could put the state in a position to win back the money or get more from the federal government if Democrats win the White House and control of Congress in 2020.
Still, rail officials expressed concern about losing the money.
“Losing a billion is, I would say, devastating to the overall project,” said Russ Fong, the project’s outgoing chief financial officer. “We have time to hopefully come to some type of resolution before those dollars are actually needed.”
Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, who represents Fresno and is one of the project’s harshest critics, said the state is witnessing “the beginning of the end” for high-speed rail.
The Trump administration has also threatened to make California return $2.5 billion that has already been spent on the project.