Jerry Brown’s half-fast ‘bullet train’ front man admits Californians deserve another vote on the project

In 2008, California voters were duped into narrowly approving (with 52.6% of the vote)  a $9.95 billion bond issue for construction of a purported “bullet train” linking San Francisco and Los Angeles, based in specious cost estimates and promises that could not be (and have not been) fulfilled. Dan Borenstein – no conservative --  of the Bay Area News Group:

Construction of the state’s bullet-train system, still in its infancy, is already at least four years behind schedule, over budget and lacking most of the funding needed to complete the project.

Worse, to raise the down payment, $9 billion of state bond money, backers deceived voters with the very sort of lies and false promises for which Democrats — rightfully — now demonize the president.

Costs have consistently escalated (as they always do when California builds major projects) to a current high estimate of $98 billion (for now - the project supposedly will last until 2029 in the unlikely event it stars keeping to its schedule), the federal funds voters were assured would materialize have been far less than promised, and there is still no plan on how to get through the dozens of miles of the  mountain range that separates the Los Angeles Basin from the Central Valley, and no plan run trains on dedicated tracks through the Bay Area owing to the tremendous costs of land acquisition.

(220 mph in rural areas, more like 70 mph when using old tracks)

As a result the ability to make the journey in 2 1/2  hours, as promised and as necessary to compete with airline travel, is questionable. Operating at conventional speeds over parts of the journey would make 5 hours a more reasonable estimate for travel time, which would eliminate day trips, a huge portion of the business travel demand.

Borenstein put these issues to the chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority and received a surprising response:

It’s time to put an end to the high-speed rail boondoggle. Or, at the very least, give voters another say. Surprisingly, even Dan Richard, chair of the bullet train authority board and Brown’s political front man on the issue, welcomes a vote.

“I actually would be OK with that,” he told me Thursday morning. “I do think this is a choice that people ought to make. … At some point, sure, I’m happy to call the question with the voters.” (snip)

Richard suggested placing a measure on the ballot in 2020. This year would be better; delay would allow Richard to continue spending money and laying more trackways, making it incrementally harder for voters to abandon the project. It’s an ongoing cynical strategy to convince the public to keep throwing good money after bad.

Indeed, Brown and Richard’s entire funding plan is predicated on buying time — especially on the notion that if they start building it, private investors will come. Thus far, not a single company has taken the bait.

This project is a horrendous boondoggle that will never be completed, and would never be economically viable even if it somehow were built. Bullet trains work in densely populated urban areas with excellent public transit to distribute passengers once they arrive. In California, passengers arriving at one of the three Bay Area Airports or five Los Angeles airports with frequent flights between the two sprawling megalopolises mostly drive rental cars to their final destinations. It is inconceivable that any business traveler would want to arrive in downtown San Francisco and use transit to get major business destinations in Silicon Valley or Pleasanton 30 miles away.

If, by some miracle, a Republican candidate for governor manages to survive the state’s “jungle primary” system (the two highest vote getters in the primary appear on the final ballot regardless of party affiliation), I expect the train boondoggle to become an issue. But that is unlikely.

It costs a lot of money to use a citizen initiative to put a question on a state ballot in a referendum, and no monied interests so far have stepped up to do so. All the money is on the side of the contractors who are on the receiving end of the bullions being squandered, and as a result, the money pit keeps getting deeper and deeper.

Meanwhile, vital public works projects are not being built because Brown prioritizes his train. California’s population has doubled since the last reservoirs were constructed, resulting in periodic “drought crises” forcing water rationing on voters, and the highway system is a wreck.

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