Time for the Union Payoffs! Bullet Train's First Boon Goes to State Highway Workers

A journey of 800 miles begins with spending millions to relocate a small chunk of highway in the middle of Fresno.


A journey of 800 miles begins with spending millions to relocate a small chunk of highway in the middle of Fresno. Via the Fresno Bee:

Cash in while you can!

It's still not determined when shovels will start digging, but some of the first real construction on California's proposed high-speed train project could be done by the state's highway department.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority [CHSRA] on Thursday authorized its executives to ink an agreement with the California Department of Transportation to handle the design and execution of a 2.5-mile relocation of Highway 99 through central Fresno. The project could be worth up to $226 million. …

The agreement with Caltrans means the highway department will work as a contractor for the rail authority to relocate Highway 99 between Ashlan and Clinton Avenues in central Fresno. That is an area where the highway runs up against a Union Pacific Railroad yard, leaving no room to shoehorn the new high-speed train tracks into their proposed route alongside the freight tracks. Plans call for the highway to be moved west by about 100 feet.

Caltrans will be responsible for designing the project, which will displace a string of businesses that sit along the west side of the highway. A frontage road and three off-ramps also will be affected.

The chief executive officer of CHSRA, Jeff Morales, appointed in May, is a former Caltrans head. That's not really the fun part, though. Obviously, any construction where roads were going to be shifted was going to have to involve Caltrans.

Here's the fun part:

The authority's board, however, was shorthanded for the vote following the resignation of board member Russ Burns. Burns, business manager for the Operating Engineers Union Local 3, sent his resignation letter to board chairman Dan Richard on Monday.

Burns, who also is a vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, was appointed to the rail authority's board in late 2009 by then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, for a term that was to run through the end of 2013.

Now that Burns has brought home the bacon for his unions he doesn't need the board anymore. He actually makes no bones about it at all in his resignation letter (pdf):

I will continue to work tirelessly as an advocate from my position of leadership at Local 3 and within the larger, statewide labor community. I will be working with my partners, many of them contractors who will end up working with the project, to help make sure the high speed rail is built and built right here in California.

And at twice the cost of what a French company proposed in 2010, when they suggested running the rail parallel to Interstate 5 and bypassing Fresno entirely to create a shorter, faster route – a route that probably wouldn't have created nearly as many union jobs.