More Scrutiny For California's Embattled Bullet Train

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy seeks government audit of state's high-speed rail plan.

The politics surrounding California's troubled bullet train proposal is growing more complex.

The plan's supporters issued a revised business plan last month that projected the cost of building a 500 mile high speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California at just under $100 billion. 

That's more than double the original projection.

Sticker shock was a predictable reaction.  But the High Speed Rail Authority took the view that the new estimates would give the project more credibility.  New board members Dan Richard and Michael Rossi, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, have strong business backgrounds.  They've taken an active role in selling the new plan.

But the drumbeat of skepticism is growing in Washington.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield is, first of all, not neutral or dispassionate on this issue. 

\That much is clear from some of the language in a letter he sent this week to the Government Accountability Office, seeking an audit of the rail project.

"Allowing the money of hard-working Americans to be wasted on a questionable project with many unanswered questions would be an abdication of our responsibilities as elected officials," the letter said.

Further, "the California High Speed Rail Authority's recently released business plan for the project only raises more questions and concerns."

McCarthy's letter seeks a probe of ridership projections, a cost comparison to other means of travel, and an assessment of how much public money will be needed to complete the project.  It's signed by nine other California congressmen, all Republicans.

Many of those same members have made it clear they'd like to stop the federal pipeline of dollars committed to the project.

The Obama Administration has agreed to more than $3 billion in federal grants next year, when construction is scheduled to begin in the Central Valley.  

The state's voters approved almost $10 billion in bond funding in 2008.

Democratic leaders in Washington and Sacramento show no intentions of abandoming the project, calling it a critical piece of instrastructure and a source of needed construction jobs.

McCarthy's call for a federal audit is an early signal of the coming fiscal and partisan fight in 2012. A war of attrition, in which each side hopes the other will run out of track first.

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