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Building A Few Miles Of California Railway Currently Projected To Cost More Than NASA Mars Mission

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A project to extend a California railway by six miles may end up costing more than a National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) mission to Mars.

California’s plans to extend the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system to San Jose and Santa Clara, which would require adding six miles of new track, have seen projected costs balloon from about $4.4 billion to $12.75 billion, according to the San Jose Spotlight. By comparison, NASA’s planned Mars Sample Return mission is currently estimated to cost between $8 billion and $11 billion, according to ABC News.

The BART extension project was initially expected to be ready for operation by 2026, but that timeline has been pushed back by a decade, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Inflation, as well as growing  labor and construction costs, are among the leading factors driving the budget overruns.

Meanwhile, NASA’s $8 to $11 billion Mars Sample Return mission will send robots into outer space to collect samples of the planet’s soil, geology and atmosphere and bring them back to Earth for analysis, according to NASA. That initiative has been delayed beyond the initial target date of 2027 or 2028, and 2033 is now considered more realistic, according to ABC News.

Other forms of public transportation already connect San Jose and Santa Clara to San Francisco, according to The Wall Street Journal. Taxpayers have approved three tax measures to cover some of the costs of the project already, according to the Chronicle.

The BART extension project is not the only rail project in California that has struggled to stay on schedule and within budget. The state has been working on a massive high-speed rail project to connect Southern California and the Bay Area, but that project has seen its budget more than triple while limited progress has been made on actually laying tracks since voters first approved a bond to finance the project in 2008, according to ConstructionDive.

The bond financing that voters initially permitted in 2008 was worth $33 billion, but the project’s costs have since swelled to $128 billion, according to ConstructionDive. Among other factors, difficulty navigating complex regulations, differences in authority between local and state governments and a lack of human capital have all contributed to the bullet train’s difficulties.

With the help of the Biden administration, California is also involved in plans to build a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail line that connects the Los Angeles area to Las Vegas, Nevada. That particular line will only go into Rancho Cucamonga, a smaller California city located about an hour east of Los Angeles by car.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the office of Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded immediately to requests for comment.

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