California high-speed rail project is late, over budget. But there's no $11B bridge | Fact check (2024)

The claim: New high-speed rail bridge cost $11 billion

A May 5 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) shows a picture of a viaduct over the Fresno River.

“This stretch of bridge right here in California was just completed and cost get this 11 billion dollars!” the post reads. “Also took just 9 years. Will be used for high-speed rail.”

The post was shared more than 2,000 times in nine days.

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Our rating: False

The California High-Speed Rail Authority said it can't provide a specific cost for the bridge in the picture, but it's not in the billions. The agency says it has paid out $2 billion on a contract for a 32-mile stretch of projects that included this viaduct and more than a dozen other projects.

Claim overstates delays, cost overruns

California’s effort to build an electric high-speed rail line – cruising north of 200 miles per hour in some stretches – is well off original estimates of completion time, scale and cost.

The system was planned to cover 500 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles for $33 billion and be operational by 2020. But the full buildout is now projected to cost as much as $128 billion, according to the authority. It is prioritizing getting an initial 171-mile stretch in central California operational in the early 2030s. And the project is significantly underfunded.

Yet those cost overruns and delays are far less than what is claimed in the post. It is impossible for the Fresno River Viaduct, the 1,600-foot-long structure pictured in the post, to cost $11 billion, based on publicly available information.

Augie Blancas, a spokesperson for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said the body cannot break out a cost for the viaduct alone because it is part of what the authority called the first “significant” construction contract awarded for the 32-mile central California segment, and that entire package of projects has not been completed yet. However, he noted the authority has approved about $2 billion worth of invoices for that package.

That matches up with the amount the package's design-build contractor lists on its website for the same package, which it says includes "12 roadway/railroad grade separations,two mainline viaducts,one tunnel, realignments of existing railroad tracks, utility relocations, roadway relocations,two trench sections and a major river crossing over the San Joaquin River."

Since the whole package has cost $2 billion to date, it is impossible for the viaduct alone to have cost $11 billion, Blancas noted.

The $11 billion figure may have come from a projection on the rail authority's website, where the body said it expected spending on the entire system statewide between July 2006 through June 2023 to total $11.2 billion. Blancas pointed to a more recent report that showed the authority had spent $12.4 billion as of the end of February 2024. The Fresno River Viaduct is among 45 structures the authority says it has completed around the state, with another 33 underway.

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The post also gives a significantly inaccurate timeline for the span’s construction.

The viaduct was built between 2015 and 2018, according to the rail authority’s website. The start of construction was reported on in 2015 by KFSN-TV. It is possible the claim stems from the authority sharing a photo of the viaduct recently on social media.

Dogecoin creator Billy Markus was among those lampooning the rail authority celebrating the project, and his wording in a May 3 post matches the false claim in the Facebook post two days later.

"This is the most remarkable human achievement ever, 1600 feet of high speed rail after 9 years and 11 billion dollars," he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "It takes about 5 minutes to walk 1600 feet so a high speed rail for that is a really big deal."

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

Lead Stories also debunked the claim.

Our fact-check sources:

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California high-speed rail project is late, over budget. But there's no $11B bridge | Fact check (2024)

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