The former director of the California Department of Transportation was hired Tuesday to lead the state’s $68 billion high-speed rail project.
Jeff Morales will join the California High-Speed Rail Authority after the agency’s board of directors unanimously approved his hiring. He replaces Roelof Van Ark, who stepped down March 2 after less than two years on the job.
Morales ran Caltrans for 3½ years, leaving when then-Gov. Gray Davis, who appointed him, was ousted following a recall election in 2004.
“Jeff Morales is exactly the right person to take the helm at this pivotal time and capitalize on the positive momentum that has built up over the last several months,” CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard said. “This board was deeply impressed by his extensive experience in large and complex transportation issues and projects on the local, state, federal and international levels.”
Morales is currently a senior vice president at Parsons Brinkerhoff America, a private contracting firm that is heavily involved in major infrastructure projects in the state, including the high-speed rail plan. His past experience also includes stints with the Chicago Transit Authority and the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. Morales’ compensation package is still being negotiated, said rail authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Burcar.
California Alliance for Jobs, a union representing 80,000 construction workers, applauded the hire.
“Jeff will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and will provide the necessary leadership to take over the reins and put an expert team together,” said Jim Earp, the organization’s executive director.
Morales will face plenty of challenges. Peninsula communities have raised objections to the design plan, transit advocates have questioned whether it can meet speed and scheduling requirements, and state lawmakers are debating whether to release $3 billion in bond funds for construction work.
When California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond measure for the plan, it was projected to cost $33 billion and be finished by 2020. The cost has been adjusted to $68 billion, and it will likely be 2030 before trains are running from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
So far, only $13 billion has been identified for the plan, and $32 billion is projected to come from the federal government.