California high-speed rail chairman steps down from job

SAN FRANCISCO — The chief executive officer of California’s high-speed rail program said Friday he’s stepping down after five years seeing the controversial project through a contentious and high-profile period in which it faced a constant onslaught of criticism from across the political spectrum.

Jeff Morales said he’ll leave the top post this summer.

Voters approved nearly $10 billion for the project as part of Proposition 1A in 2008. It was then projected to cost $40 billion.

“A lot of people didn’t believe it could be done,” Morales said in an interview. “I really wanted to make sure we got the program on solid financial footing.”

The CEO’s announcement comes one day after the state sold nearly $1.25 billion in bonds, a milestone after years of legal delay for a project now projected to cost $64 billion.

In December, the board approved $3.2 billion in funding for two segments: $2.6 billion for a 119-mile leg connecting Fresno to Madera and $600 million to electrify a 55-mile stretch of existing Caltrain tracks in the San Jose Peninsula that will eventually connect with high-speed rail. The money is needed so the state meets its obligation to “match” federal funding but had been tied up in litigation for several years.

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