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High-speed rail follies

Original post made by Tim Hunt on Apr 3, 2012

California's high-speed rail advocates continue to revise the absurdly expensive business plan to try and persuade the Legislature to allocate some of the $9 billion in bond funds that voters approved in 2008.
The current plan, made public Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, totally changes the service in both the Bay Area and L.A. by using existing rails and eliminates true high-speed service through the metropolitan areas. Proponents say the blended approach will save about $30 billion off the latest $98 billion estimate for a true high-speed system.
The new number also is $23 billion more than the number that voters were given when they approved the ill-advised project in 2008.
The governor and his cronies on the high-speed rail board continue to try and spin the latest version of the business plan, which clearly is not what voters approved. The authority has no credibility—none of its business plans have stood up to even minimal scrutiny. It's been one of the worst examples of asking voters and the Legislature to bet the farm in a state where the farm is deeply in hock.
It would be fair to ask when a government public works project ever comes in below budget. Check out the reconstruction of the Bay Bridge for a nearby example.
In addition, this group of so-called environmentalist are trying to skate around environmental review laws. The project that currently proposed bears little resemblance to the one that the EIR—which was successfully challenged in court—considered.
To ignore required environmental review simply because it's expedient to do so flies in the face of being a nation of laws.
To cobble together financing, the authority assumes it can tap a yet-to-be developed cap-and-trade fund and qualify as a green project because the trains would be powered by electricity. Yes, they are that desperate because this is a plan without foundation that they continue to try to shove ahead instead of simply killing it.
The project has an immense gap between identified revenues and the estimated costs and assumes that private investors will rush in once construction starts. And, of course, the plan predicts that the train will operate without public subsidy.
The folks at Southwest and JetBlue must be chuckling. Guesstimated fares on the choo-choo already are close to what those airlines charge. Remember, BART, with a captive audience and no competition, returns 50 percent from the firebox. The absurdly expensive high-speed rail is going to do twice that with competition from airlines that get your there twice or three times as fast. Please.
And, once you get to either end, unless you're headed to a downtown area, the efficient public transit alternatives are lacking. To pretend that California will ever by Europe with its compact cities and effective public transit systems is simply to live in a fantasy world.
It's time for the Legislature to show the maturity that the governor lacks on this issue and save bond money, which is paid back from the general fund, for many more important needs.
Gov. Jerry's legacy should not hinge on this high-speed rail.

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