"If they're saying $100 billion, that means it'll be $200 billion." More Californians Feeling Low About High-Speed Rail


Celebrated Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez loses his bullet-train enthusiasm in a new column: "Should California bite the bullet on high-speed rail?"

It's not clear whether "biting the bullet" here means going ahead with the project or abandoning it. This may be the column that refutes an old journalismism about how if the headline ends in a question mark, the answer is no.

Lopez knows his readers well enough to start out by grokking the awesomeness of the wow factor that is being imagineered in the high-speed rail concept. Then the big but: 

In 2008, California voters supported — bravely, naively or perhaps both — construction of a gargantuan, 520-mile bullet train route and authorized $9 billion in state bonds to get things going. The total projected cost to lay rail for electric cars, whizzing from San Diego to San Francisco at almost 200 mph, was originally estimated at $33 billion.

Since then, the high-speed dream has become a slow-motion nightmare, and we might be better off running a zip line from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Baldy.

The projected completion date has gone from 2020 to 2033. The anticipated cost has ballooned to as high as $117 billion, and no one seems to have a clue where the bulk of the money would come from. The state auditor and the state Legislative Analyst's Office have raised serious concerns, and the rail authority's own peer review group said the project represents "an immense financial risk" to the state. And two weeks ago, the railroad authority's top executive resigned.

The columnist journeys to Union Station (railroads and buses) and what Lopez, in a gratuitous swipe at the late Bob Hope, calls simply "the Burbank airport." He lets regular Californians pipe up about the high-speed rail project until he gets quotes for, against and in the middle. 

I generally take Lopez' real-life quotes from just plain folks with a fistful of salt (Morton's or superstore equivalent salt like an average Joe, not fancypants sea salt like some fancypants), but he does identify people by full name and location. I appreciate Lopez' deft juxtaposition of some pinwheel-eyed economics from a "semi-pro soccer player, actor, model and musician" with this: 

Not Joe Bogenschutz, though. As the Burbank resident was about to board a plane Tuesday morning in Burbank, he said: "If they're saying $100 billion, that means it'll be $200 billion."

Lopez has the good fortune to answer to the newsroom rather the opinion section, where bullet-train belief still reigns as supremely as it does in Gov. Jerry Brown's rumpus room. The important thing is that one more prominent Golden State blowhard is sealing the case against the vacant and bankrupt high-speed rail project.