Eleven years after voters approved $9 billion in bonds for a bullet train that would travel at speeds up to 220 miles per hour and transport Californians between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state must complete a Bakersfield to Merced segment to demonstrate that the project will work.
Not everyone is convinced.
On November 12, the Assembly Transportation Committee held a field hearing in Fresno. The committee members and staff toured three HSR construction sites, part of the 119-mile route being built between Madera and an orchard near Shafter at an estimated cost of $15.6 billion.
Newsom’s plan is to extend the route from Merced to Bakersfield, a 171-mile line that will cost an extra $4.8 billion for the tracks, trains and electrical system.
The governor told the Fresno Bee editorial board that “the only way” to secure additional federal, state and local funds and the participation of the private sector is by “proving ourselves, getting a real project done and being able to test this technology, the first of its kind in the nation.”
However, Assembly Member Laura Friedman, D-Burbank, said a better way to prove the viability of the project is to spend the additional $4.8 billion on projects in the Bay Area or Southern California to increase ridership.
CAHSR board member Dan Curtin advocated for running 125-mph diesel trains on the new line currently under construction, instead of spending billions on electrification.
Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said the law constrains their choices on how to spend the billions of taxpayer dollars allocated to the project. Federal grants require that the money be spent in the Central Valley, and the 2008 ballot measure that authorized $9.9 billion in bonds requires trains that are capable of speeds up to 220 mph.
The bond measure also required a train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the project is $60 billion short of getting there.
In early February, the High-Speed Rail Authority will release its required Draft 2020 Business Plan, which will include updated estimates of costs and schedules, funds available to complete construction, public-private partnership strategies, reasonably foreseeable risks, and updated revenue and ridership forecasts.
But it is already clear that the project is infeasible as authorized. It should be canceled.
Newsom was right earlier this year when he identified the problems with the high-speed rail project. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” he said at his first State of the State address.
The solutions to come out of the political establishment, however, only drag out the failed project and the false promise of the project as sold to voters. The longer this goes on, the more the lost opportunities mount.
California could have achieved a great deal in the decade since Proposition 1A was approved. All Californians have today is a national embarrassment and politicians scrambling for too little, too late.
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