By Tim Hunt
High-speed rail boondoggle continues to stagger forwardUploaded: Aug 30, 2022
Taxpayers in California suffered through another dubious milestone this month when the board charged with constructing the high-speed rail approved environmental work for the last segment that will connect San Jose to San Francisco.
It will utilize the same right-of-way that CalTrain uses and money from the high-speed rail fund already is being spent to electrify the that system. It comes out of the high-speed rail funding pool. For those who have followed this budget-busting amazingly overdue odyssey, you will remember that voters in 2008 approved the $10 billion in bonds for the high speed line that was supposed to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles with trains that would make the trip in less three hours. There was supposed to be no additional public money involved and no subsidies on operating costs. Such a pipe dream.
The approved environmental reports clear another huddle for the authority and the Legislature and former Gov. Jerry Brown have done their part to partially alleviate the huge funding shortfall as has the Biden Administration that restored money that the Obama Administration allocated to this as a “shovel ready project” during his first term. The Trump Administration clawed the $1 billion back with solid rationale, but politics and President Biden’s affinity for trains reversed that decision.
The authority now is focused on completing the 119-mile Central Valley section from nowhere (Shafter near Bakersfield) to nowhere (Madera near Merced) with no connections. The authority celebrated because it now has approved environmental documents for all but 80 miles of the 500-mile system.
Of course, this was supposed to be a $33 billion system that now is estimated at $105 billion. Completion of the first segment now is targeted for 2029 and who knows when and if the system will be completed. The ballot measure said as soon as 2020 so it’s almost a decade behind and that’s just the first phase. No private investment has been attracted in 14 years.
Given the governor’s edict and the state air board’s decision to ban the sale of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles in the state by 2035, you might ask what the greenhouse gas reduction is when someone parks an electric car to get on an electric train. The environmental work was questionable, at best, on its greenhouse gas reduction estimates that did not account for Newsom’s anti-gas initiatives in the name of climate change. Gov. Brown convinced the Legislature to allocate 25% of the funds derived from the auction of greenhouse gas credits to the train, giving it a steady source of funding—even if it was questionable under the terms of the 2008 ballot measure.