Skip to comments.Feds Insist On Rail Funds For CA Boondoggle
Posted on 12/20/2011 2:38:41 PM PST by lasereye
If it is built, Californias High-Speed Rail would be the largest public works project in state history. That fact alone appears be intoxicating to state officials, in a perpetual quest to have California be the first state to do anything.
Despite the warnings of a nearly $100 billion ballooning price tag, no track laid, no trains running, decreasing legislative support and even opposition from diehard rail advocates, the High-Speed Rail Authority is steaming ahead full throttle with plans to build the most expensive high-speed rail system in history.
But there is pushback coming from so many places that it must be difficult to keep up the cheerleading. Even the latest Field poll found that two thirds of Californians want a new referendum on the project. And by a two-to-one margin, they say theyd vote to derail it.
Many say that the plans will only unveil a state-subsidized train system, wrought with malfeasance, payola and unscrupulousness.
And even more question the need for another rail service, with Amtrack already operating throughout California. Others say that California already has high-speed travel airplanes.
The state legislative hearings with the High-Speed Rail Authority have become something of a bad joke. Legislators ask most of the right questions. They even ask the tough questions. However, High-Speed Rail Authority board members never answer the questions.
Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has been asking where the money to build the rail system is going to come from. However, Harkeys questions have also been ignored, by rail authority members who appear accountable to no one, particularly if they are not answering legislators questions.
Last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood practically insisted that California take and use the $3.9 billion in federal money to build the Central Valley segment of High-Speed Rail. A hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was held to look at mistakes and lessons learned from President Barack Obamas rail initiative. House Republicans were critical that the Obama administration mistakenly tried to push high-speed rail in the West, instead of the Northeast, where rail travel is already popular.
But the $3.9 billion offered to California was American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, federal stimulus money, and came with a requirement of use in the economically depressed Central Valley.
While the Central Valley is desperate for jobs of any kind, many in the region are welcoming High-Speed Rail with open arms.
The fear is that they are going to use the federal funds anyway, said Harkey. But the High-Speed Rail Authority is not answering questions.
Harkey recently attended the High-Speed Rail draft business plan presentation to the Orange County Transportation Authority board.
The OCTA addressed concerns with the rail authority, and called the funding plan largely speculative, and cost comparisons theoretical.
They were being kind.
Harkey said that she reiterated to the OCTA board that if a rail system is going to be built, High-Speed Rail needs to start in a more realistic location, such as Los Angeles to Anaheim, or San Jose to San Francisco. And she urged the OCTA board to demand a new and independent ridership study.
But Harkey also warned the OCTA that if they agreed to support the High-Speed Rail deal, there wouldnt be any money for local transportation. One of the funding sources the rail authority is counting on in the future is cost sharing with local agencies.
The other worry Harkey has is that the Legislature is not making any moves to take money away from the rail authority. Its the governor who wants this, said Harkey. I hope he will eventually realize that its got to stop.
Many suspect that Gov. Jerry Brown is looking ahead with an eye toward Central Valley votes if he brings jobs to the region. But the untold story about High-Speed Rail jobs creation is that any construction jobs created by the rail project will be paid with borrowed money. The net effect will be financially negative.
The state has no extra money for a brand new infrastructure project costing more than $100 billion before completion. California is facing a structural deficit of $35 billion.
The state ended last fiscal year with a cash deficit of $8.2 billion. And by next month, California will be facing an estimated $12 billion cash-flow deficit.
Long-term borrowing is even worse, and has grown from $60 billion to $90 billion over just the past four years. Harkey said that California is nearly maxed out of borrowing capacity and facing a credit downgrade.
A recent report by the Legislative Analyst found that future High-Speed Rail funding sources are highly speculative, and the economic impact analysis included in the rail authoritys plan may be incomplete and imbalanced, and therefore portrays the project more favorably than may be warranted.
And, congressional Republicans have refused to appropriate rail funds. Private investors, wherever they may be, are said to be demanding a revenue guarantee, which is yet another violation of the 2008 ballot measure.
Stating that its plan for the Central Valley portion of the rail line violates sections of Proposition 1A, a lawsuit filed against the High-Speed Rail plan contends that an operating subsidy will be needed for construction of the Central Valley segment. But an operating subsidy is outlawed under Prop. 1A. Complicating matters, the first segment of the rail system wont even run high-speed trains until the entire system is build. The initiative required the train to be only high-speed.
At the hearing before Congress last week, LaHood said that Californias High-Speed Rail is not a cheap project but the people in California want this. But thats not accurate given the recent Field poll results that found that 37 percent of voters who supported the High-Speed Rail bond measure in 2008 would vote against it today.
Calling the plan a high-speed spending path, Harkey said, We cant afford to accept the match funding from the federal government match funds that will be repaid with tax bond dollars by our children. We dont have a plan, we dont have a route, and we dont have the money to repay the costs.
(Katy Grimes is CalWatchdogs news reporter. Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist. This article was first posted on CalWatchdog.)
An 80 billion dollar train from Pixley to Hooterville.
How do I sign up for some of this?
Idiots! Dump the boondoggle!!
If they could just figure a way to get enough of our money, they could solve all our problems.
The only way high speed rail can be built in the USA is under the umbris of government. A Texas consortium tried to build a HSR line and Southwest Airlines spent millions to lobby against it - not unlike how some interests are lobbying aganst the Keystone Pipeline.
With California it makes sense to build HSR because with environmental rules there is a ZERO chance that a new north-south freeway can be built to link SoCal and NorCal. And adding additional airport space is all but impossible for the same reasons. Rail, on the other hand allows travelers to go from city center to city center in far less time than can be done via a combination of freeway and air.
Given the population of the state will expand to probably 50 million by mid-century and to as much as 80 million or more by 2100 having an alternate means of transport in place for all of those people is responsible governance.
As to the opposition to HSR? The HSR plan mirrors the 1956 Federal Interstate Highway Act because that method of building transportation infrastructure is proven. You build in the rural areas first and then build in the urban areas so you can keep the political momentum going. God bless their pointy little heads, but the French, Germans, and Britis built their HSR systems the same way we did our Interstates because that model worked.
That’s what failed with the US Route system of the 1920’s.
The urban areas got their US Route expressways built and then those expressways terminated into gravel and dirt roads in the rural areas. At best those roads were mere two lane ribbons in rural areas. The Feds learned from their mistakes and despite huge Republican opposition the first Interstate construction was started not in NYC or Boston or LA, but in rural Missouri and Kansas on I-70.
If HSR was built the way critics want it built it would not link up to anything and would only be a series of regional or urban rail systems that did not link urban areas.
What irks me about the opponents of the program is that most of them will go out of their way to ride on this thing once it’s built. Another group will say they supported it all along just like so many do with the Interstates now.
“An 80 billion dollar train from Pixley to Hooterville.”
There actually is a little hick town named Pixley near Fresno that will be served by the bullet train. We can build a town named Hooterville with additional federal funding.
What a great way to put it!!! And don't forget that Crabwell Corners will demand a stop too.
There are only four freeway lanes in each direction, going from north to south on I-5 and Hwy 99. There are seldom traffic delays driving through say Kettleman City.
There are plenty of delays in San Jose and in Van Nuys.
If they want to prove and accept, then build HSR from Van Nuys to Irvine; as alternative to the 405.
As for Europe. Germany has a freeway system like ours. In France, they built the TGV for example to go from Paris to the German border. However, the fares are 120 euros each way. A bus is way cheaper and not that much slower. As I drove along that TGV there was very little train traffic.
Yes, detractors will ride and pay; if for example it delivers them from Van Nuys to Irvine in under and hour; when driving is an excruciating 2-3 hours.
But north to south, we're taking Southwest Airlines.
I’m familiar with Pixley.
Some of Green Acres scenes were filmed there too.
Based on highly inflated passenger loads and already rising costs, the project is already bankrupt. $800 mill spent so far on planning and publicity. Any one who has driven several times up the I-5 or Hwy 99 could design the route in 30 minutes.
Why have they hired 8 PR firms over 20 years? Its not workable and they sold it enough to pass the bond at the last election. The feds, who are the only ones in the US more bankrupt than the state of Cal keep the project alive with tax money from the over 49 suckers, er states.
Were I governor, I would go to Vegas and meet with Steve Wynn, other casino owners, and the governor of Nevada. I would invite them to build a line from Vegas to Ontario and Burbank with the two lines going to Barstow and forming one line north to Vegas. The road from southern California to Vegas is the real place that has a passenger load. And you dont need a car when youre in Vegas. NO PUBLIC FUNDS, but expedited permits and rights of way etc.
Then if someone wants to do Barstow to SF or Barstow east, they would get the same government assistance, but no funds.
High speed rail makes no sense anywhere.
If the truth were ever told WRT the cost, people would be showing up to meetings with 10Ga shotguns loaded with 00 buckshot to moderate the meeting. In the end it would cost close to a trillion bucks to complete the promised routes. A ticket would have to cost $4,000 more or less.
Californis is an especially poor candidate due to the fact that it would have to travel through the most active siesmic zone in the US.
Thank God for Southwest Airlines!
“build HSR from Van Nuys to Irvine”
Pay attention. The reason the Feds will not allow that is because such a line would probably never reach Northern California. As to your taking SWA, once HSR is in place it’ll be a 2.5 to 3 hour trip from LA Union Station to downtown San Francisco - regardless of traffic on the 405 or of delays at LAX, Burbank, or Ontario. Meanwhile, even on a good day, travel from city center to city center is around four hours on a good day.
You go ahead and take SWA, I’ll be waiting for you in SF.
Then the feds are dopes.
If they can't demonstrate the solution where it is needed and difficult to implement, then they don't deserve approval of the effort to build the easy part in the central valley.
The central valley probably be sparsely populatated for the next century and ready to link the two populated regions 50-100 years from now.
“High speed rail makes no sense anywhere.”
Your argument and etc. were also stated about the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. I remember someone on FR saying it would’ve been cheaper to buy every BART user a BMW than to pay for the Concord to Antioch extension. Yet let something happen where BART isn’t available and you see its true value in that the whole Bay Area subsumes into gridlock. Conversely, for several weeks back in 1989 BART was the best (and sometimes only) way in and around the Bay Area due to damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake.
HSR is the same thing. It’s being built as an altearnative and as pressures build on air and road infrastructure the HSR will be there to take up the slack.
I am a fan of SWA, for sure. But what they did in Texas to stymie a 100% privately funded HSR project bordered on criminal because if that project had gone forward then the same firm had planned on building HSR in California with 100% private money.
So you can thank Southwest for forcing private investors out of the HSR business.
By the way, if HSR was going to have been the flop that you and all of the naysayers believe it will be then why do you think Southwest Airlines spent an estimated $35 million to stop it? Hmmm?
Oh, and now Texas is building HSR as part of the Texas Corridor project and it’s being done at taxpayer expense when it could have been done privately. You can be sure to thank your friends at SWA for that.
Given that the model for building HSR is the same as the model for the Interstate Highway System I take it then that you also oppose the Interstate Highway System?
The fastest "high speed" Amtrak train between Chicago and Detroit, for instance, takes a half hour longer (when it's on time) than the Pennsylvania Railroad steam train of 75 years ago.
In the year 2040.
“When there was a market demand for high speed passenger trains, private railroads in the US provided the service.”
True. And then the government spent around $800 billion on the Interstate Highway System and then when passenger rail and short haul rail was no longer profitable the government required the railroads to keep both money-losing services available.
It was only after rail was deregulated that intermodal and container transport returned the private railroads to profitability.
According to the logic you’re promoting here, the government had no business building Interstate Highways.
Frankly, I’d prefer privately funded HSR but the good people at Southwest Airlines made sure that no such thing can happen in this country.
Good thing they were not around in 1956 or we would not have the Interstate System.
“In the year 2040.”
Napoleon once told his Minister of the Interior that he wanted trees planted along every major road in France so that the French Army could march in the shade. The minister replied that it would be 25 years before the trees would be tall enough to provide such shade. Napoleon replied, “Then we must not waste any more time.”
By the way, the Interstate system was started in 1956 and it is still not completed fifty-five years later. Should we abandon it as a failure? Or do we recognize that certain things take time?
The point you miss is that, much like privately owned railroads, the interstate highway system is self sustaining; Government run passenger trains are not.
Like I said, I’d prefer privately run HSR but our good friends at Southwest Airlines have spent millions lobbying politicians to make sure that no such thing ever happens. Yet there’s still a demand for HSR thus a majority of California voters voted it in.
California is not going to get any item of major infrastructure built, public or private, until the law is changed to shift the burden of proof on permit approvals of known-good, standard technology from the builders to the opposition. If the liberals can;t build high-speed raill their own favorite project, then what hope is there of building new power plants or highways?
California is not going to get any item of major infrastructure built, public or private, until the law is changed to shift the burden of proof on permit approvals of known-good, standard technology from the builders to the opposition. If the liberals can;t build high-speed rail, their own favorite project, then what hope is there of building new power plants or highways?
You made the case that the interstates linked existing local expressways. Thank you, because I did not know that.
Let long distance HSR link local HSR.
HSR works the best in Italy. The link between Rome-Naples-Florence-Venice-Milan is a good model.
I think the LA basin is a good candidate. Irvine-Riverside-Simi Valley-LAX South Bay-San Diego etc. You already have 20 million people there.
But the fact that it is illegal to compete with Amtrak is hardly proof that private railroads would be incapable of providing high speed service; rather, it's proof that the government cannot tolerate free people risking their own capital in a private enterprise which would show socialism to be the horribly ineffecient economic/social order that we all know it to be.
Seems to me critics of it don't want it built at all. Or am I missing something?
And where do you get your history of the interstates?
The same argument is still solidly valid about the Bay Area Rapid Transit System.
It runs deep in the red, and only carries 50% at most of what the same amount of realestate could carry with highway vehicles. Its also a huge cultural disaster.
The shifting of highway taxes is the proximate cause of all transportation difficulties in all of California.
Had the mid-bay crossing been built when it was proposed, the Loma Prieta quake would have been of little relevance to transpoetation. Your socialism is the $h!ts!
Thank God for SWA!
>> “Seems to me critics of it don’t want it built at all. Or am I missing something?” <<
You are absolutely right! HSR would destroy the state.
Another "Big Dig" waiting to happen. Originally said to cost about four billion, it's now up to twenty two billion [and not done yet]. Projects like this are ripe for all kinds of mischief.
Sorry, suckers, but your masters know better.
“Seems to me critics of it don’t want it built at all. Or am I missing something?”
Yes, some of the critics who can’t find the means to stop HSR go to their fall back option as a means of trying to make sure it fails.
“And where do you get your history of the interstates?”
First, the mandates to build in rural areas first are a component of the 1956 FIHA, second, the failures of the US Route system are self evident as most of those routes were obviated by obsolescence.
“The shifting of highway taxes is the proximate cause of all transportation difficulties in all of California.”
I agree. However rail transit and even local mass transit are not the principle beneficiaries of the shifting of State Highway funds. The Legislature, in all their liberal wisdom, have moved most revenues from gas taxes to the General Fund and a few of them, led by Darrell Steinberg in the state Senate, have proposed selling the $10 billion in rail bonds and then ‘borrowing’ the money to the General Fund.
It does not matter a whit that Californians have voted three times to instruct their solons to leave highway funds alone, they always find a way to steal the money to keep their welfare constitutencies happy.