California

More Trouble for Jerry Brown's Rail Boondoggle

Concealed report: Overruns, delays plague high-speed rail

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One of the biggest problems with California Gov. Jerry Brown's efforts to battle climate change is the "do or die" nature of the situation. Based on his rhetoric, there's little room for debate over costs, benefits, details and oversight. When the future of the Earth is at stake, then nothing else seems to matter. A new brouhaha over one of Brown's signature anti-climate-change projects illustrates this situation.

I'm referring to the construction of a $68-billion (for now) high-speed rail system that connects Los Angeles with San Francisco, in a promised 2 hours and 40 minutes (but don't count on it). It's supposed to slow climate change by creating an alternative to driving up and down the state in cars. An investigative report last week suggests state officials have concealed from the public information about likely cost overruns and delays.

The idea has long generated controversy, but in 2008 voters approved, with nearly 53 percent of the vote, Proposition 1A, which authorized nearly $10 billion in bonds to begin the construction of such a rail line. Early cost estimates soared to at least $98.5 billion, but were scaled back to $68 billion after the newly created rail authority changed some significant aspects of the project. As years go by, the project barely resembles the one promised to voters.

For instance, instead of speeding from LA to the Bay Area, the train would share track with commuter trains in those heavily urbanized areas. That cut back on costs, but slowed the travel times. Even one of its key authors, former Sen. Quentin Kopp (I), disavowed the project given that it no longer resembled the original proposal.

The Brown administration trudged forward, even after a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled against the project because it lacked sufficient funding streams to get started. Proposition 1A was tightly written, filled with detailed promises designed to woo voters. It promised certain costs, travel times, prevented the use of operating subsidies and forbade the rail authority from spending authorized bond dollars until it detailed funding for the initial segment.

Ultimately, the judge's attempt to force the Brown administration to, in part, live up to the initiative's promises was overturned by an appeals court. The state Supreme Court chose not to review that decision, and it's been full-speed ahead since.

But there's no getting around the project's contradictions and overly optimistic promises. That Los Angeles Times investigative report confirms not only ongoing schedule and cost problems, but the degree to which the state has taken a secretive approach to the project. Who cares about a few billion dollars, years of delay and open records when the Earth's future is at stake?

Pointing to the "geologically complex mountains north of Los Angeles" that must be tunneled through, the Times' "analysis of project documents, as well as interviews with scientists, engineers and construction experts, indicates the deadline and budget targets almost certainly will be missed—and that the state has underestimated the challenges ahead, particularly completing the tunneling on time."

A top contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, produced a confidential report showing a 31-percent increase in the cost of building the first phase of the project, and a predicted a 5-percent increase in the overall cost of the project. Even though state officials had that report in 2013, "the state used a lower cost estimate when it issued its 2014 business plan four months later," according to the newspaper.

The authority's chief executive officer Jeff Morales said he was unaware of that number. But as a Union-Tribune editorial noted, Morales' last position was senior vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff. By the way, the authority refused to provide the report to the Times under the public-records act, but the newspaper acquired it from an engineer.

In response, four Republican Assembly members representing districts affected by the project, sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, requesting a subpoena demanding the rail authority provide the Parsons Brinckerhoff report, a list of state officials briefed on its content, and various electronic and paper documents referencing it. They haven't gotten a response.

"The business plan," they wrote, "which we now know to be the lower of two estimates, was used as the basis for the Legislature's decision to continuously appropriate 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue for high-speed rail. The authority continued to mislead the Legislature in two subsequent project update reports, and has yet to publicly disclose this $9 billion cost increase."

This is a massive project, the largest state infrastructure undertaking in the nation's history. Skeptics doubt it will do much to reduce global warming, but voters and the courts have had their say on that question. California voters still deserve serious oversight of its spending, rather than a "this is too important for you know about" approach.

NEXT: Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee Won't Be on the Main Stage in the Next GOP Debate

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  1. The actual construction is hurting the earth and should be stopped. If you care about the earth and want to get from LA to SF, may I suggest walking or using a bike.

    1. You would suggest trampling on the earth. If you want to limit the surface you disturb you should fly.

      1. contrails

        1. protrails are better.

    2. Along those lines, energy alternatives to oil come with their own set of costs. Ethanol was seemingly a popular alternative for awhile but still requires burning and all of the emissions associated with that. And even batteries and solar panels (I think) require mining metals for their construction. And mining is no clean adventure. AND then there’s waste and disposal associated with all this crap…

      Someone must have figured out the immediate & long term costs/benefits (environmental and economic) of implementing this thing… right?

      One more thing– if 10B was approved… how do they finagle authority to spend 5x more?

          1. I’m new to online discussion sections, so I didn’t immediately recognize the acronym you used there. Upon googling, it is now my favorite! What a great acronym!

            1. It’s in the California constitution.

              1. And one of the Amendments to the US constitution.

      1. Alternative energies, thus far, haven’t been as useful as oil because of their atrocious energy density. What is hilarious is that when people try to price-compare solar, wind, hydro, coal, and oil – coal and oil both have their drilling and mining operations included in both their “Costs” and their “Environmental Footprint.” Solar and Wind don’t, and hydro sometimes does and doesn’t, depending on your source.

        If we are serious as a society about global warming, nuclear is the only way to go with our current technology. Unfortunately, no one is serious about global warming. The politicians are using it as an excuse to tax more, give more money to their cronies, and to funnel those taxes to places like the UN where they aren’t accountable for their spending instead of actually working to solve the problem. The populace is tired of the constant political “whining while not actually trying to solve the problem” thing they’ve been doing for 30 years and is steadily losing interest in the narrative put forth by the politicians.

      2. They don’t even legally get the $10B. The Browndoggle doesn’t come close to meeting the requirements in 1A.
        But they’re taking the money anyway.

  2. This article should come as a surprise to no one.

    Government employee graft and outright theft has grown to be almost expected and accepted. Bureaucrats are blatantly telling Congress to fuck off when they are being investigated as the law no longer appears to apply to them.

    It seems as they know the ship is sinking and they are filling their own pockets as fast as they can before it goes down.

  3. Even if it does somehow get completed, the Left refuses to admit that people would rather travel in personal transportation (a car) is most instances so they can go point to point most easily. With the High Speed Rail project when you arrive in LA or SanFran you’re still going to have to ride Mass Transit to your final destination since by then they will have outlawed Uber & Lyft. The left just can stand the masses doing things individually.

    1. “With the High Speed Rail project when you arrive in LA or SanFran you’re still going to have to ride Mass Transit to your final destination”

      Moonbeam’s choo-choo; taking you from where you ain’t to where you don’t want to go!

    2. Rail is great for goods transport because you go from a depot to a depot without many stops in between. In order for consumer rail to work for the largest number of people, it needs to stop every mile or so in all types of environments: Urban, suburban, commercial, industrial, and so forth.

      We already have that capability for a heck of a lot less cost because it uses already existing common infrastructure. It’s called buses. What makes rail better? And why haven’t we seen “better” from all of the subway and rail projects in the east that haven’t panned out? The only place it has worked is New York City and Chicago, where you have an extremely dense population to take advantage of, which no one out west approaches.

      LA might be there in 30 years, but it isn’t there yet.

      1. I rode the commuter train in Chicago when I lived there, it went from The Loop up to Kenosha, WI stopping every few minutes – the inefficiency was bearable for two reasons 1) the North Shore is much more beautiful than the Central Valley 2) and I didn’t own a car in the city, since I took the El everywhere (which WAS convenient). Living in the Central Valley, where a car is a necessity, means it will be cheaper and more efficient for me to get to the Bay by driving rather than the train.

  4. This monstrosity is going to make the Bay Bridge project look well thought out and designed.

    1. Not to mention CHEAP!

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  6. “A top contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, produced a confidential report showing a 31-percent increase in the cost of building the first phase of the project, and a predicted a 5-percent increase in the overall cost of the project.”

    So, double it and toss in another 10%?

    1. Those guys are fucking crooked as hell. They have their hand in virtually everyone mass transit project, but to the left, they are the correct kind of corporation I guess.

      1. So triple it and add 25%?

        1. Really now… Go big or go home. These are taxpayer funds we’re discussing, so why such puny limits?

  7. this, The rail, is not about climate change this is about Brown’s ego and paying off friends.

  8. Meanwhile, Brown got the state geological services to assess the oil and gas potential of his privately held land. I am more and more convinced that socialists are really just feudalists in disguise; they desperately want a nobility to tell the masses how to live.

    1. You listen to Mark Levin too?

  9. Who cares about the cost overruns. This project infiltrated its way into True Detective and ruined the second season. Fuck Jerry Brown.

  10. It sucks that they don’t have planes in California. Poor people.

    1. I do not fly between SF and LA because of TSA. The claim here is that you won’t have to deal with TSA which I’m guessing will last until the first anonymous threat.
      So I’ll still drive.

  11. Fat Teddy pushed through the Big Dig in Boston while I lived there. This bullshit in CA is just more of the same amateur social engineering. But the Mafia made out huge with it.

    We have the same type of crackpot governor in WA.

    We should all get 3 tattoos of these guys on our asses. Or save money and get Teddy Kennedy on the left cheek, Jay Inslee on the right and let Jerry Brown be the one in the middle.

  12. This will come in around 500 billion after 25 years and will have an end to end schedule time of 6 to 7 hours. It will cost 2x the average plane ticket assuming California still allows planes to fly.

    1. Yea, but worth it for a really neat Choo Choo !

    2. There in lies the rub. California will take it’s cue from Europe and Japan making driving so cost prohibitive that you have little choice but to take the subsidized and unionized train service. I am sure they will be looking for ways to dump a huge burden on airlines as well driving up costs to do the same.

      1. Even though driving is expensive in Europe, the vast majority of people still drive in preference to trains.

        1. But now only rich liberals can drive. Instead of the masses. Which is the way their kind like it. Every progressive is an elitist at heart. Or what passes for a heart, that pumps the black bile that substitutes for blood through the unholy vessels they call bodies.

    3. There in lies the rub. California will take it’s cue from Europe and Japan making driving so cost prohibitive that you have little choice but to take the subsidized and unionized train service. I am sure they will be looking for ways to dump a huge burden on airlines as well driving up costs to do the same.

      1. And then they wonder why business and sane people flee the state for other states with more freedom.

  13. So the Bullet train at 68 billion now will share traffic with slow commuter trains…which means the Bullet train will barrel like a bat out o hell at 250 MPH for 50 yards, stop, wait, then carry on for another 50 yards. But it’s a bullet train damn you! Just because it can’t go fast is the stupid taxpayer’s problem for interfering with the plan.

  14. Skeptics doubt it will do much to reduce global warming, but voters and the courts have had their say on that question. California voters still deserve serious oversight of its spending, rather than a “this is too important for you know about” approach.

    The people pushing this project lied to California voters, and HSR cannot be built under the conditions it was approved; not even close. That doesn’t require “serious oversight”, it requires canceling the project altogether.

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