High Speed Rail

Can California Conservatives Kill the High-Speed Rail Boondoggle?

A ballot initiative planned for 2020 would let voters kill the overbudgeted, underfunded, behind-schedule monstrosity.


Train construction
John Gastaldo/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The same folks trying to scale back California's massive gas taxes are now taking aim at the state's budget-busting, behind-schedule high-speed rail project.

Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council (and a former contractor for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website), announced this week that he's introducing a brand new ballot initiative that would force the governor to stop all activity on the proposed bullet train (currently under construction in the Fresno area) and spend any remaining money on other transportation projects.

When we last took note of the bullet train, everything was spiraling out of control. Costs had ballooned up to at least $77 billion (three times what citizens were told when they approved a bond for the project a decade ago) and delays have pushed the opening all the way back to 2033. It's a disaster that Gov. Jerry Brown insists on defending as some sort of legacy.

DeMaio's new ballot initiative would kill the train, but it doesn't stop there. His proposal is essentially a follow-up to Proposition 6, up for vote this fall. Proposition 6 would roll back gas taxes and vehicle fees passed last year and would require a public vote to implement any future gas tax or vehicle fee increases.

The ad blitzes for and against Proposition 6 have already begun. If you're a Californian, you may already be seeing "No on 6" ads popping up in your social media feeds. (This Angeleno has been seeing them all week on Facebook.) The opposition ads warn that the passage of Proposition 6 threatens funding for roads and bridges. "Crumbling roads and bridges" is the phrase officials defending the gas taxes have been hitting over and over.

The reality, though, is that millions and millions of dollars of revenue collected by the gas taxes are being directed away from those "crumbling roads and bridges." As Christian Britschgi noted back in April, the revenue from the gas tax increase from last year is being used to fund 28 transit projects that had nothing to do with repairing roads and bridges. This revenue is actually being used for pet rail projects, including a revamp of the rail network here in Los Angeles to prepare for the 2028 Olympics. So in reality, the gas tax was making drivers across the state subsidize pet train and mass transit projects.

DeMaio's new initiative addresses that problem with a "lockbox" proposal that forbids revenue from gas taxes to be used for any projects other than those involving roads.

But California has lots of taxes, and his plan doesn't forbid using all of it for other projects. The new initiative would allow car sales taxes to be devoted to all types of transportation projects, including mass transit, bike lanes, and other types of programs.

Read DeMaio's new ballot initiative here. He submitted the initiative to the attorney general's office Tuesday to request a title and summary to begin the process of collecting signatures, with a goal of getting it on the 2020 ballot.

Bonus link: The Reason Foundation analyzed all 11 ballot propositions that Californians will be considering on Election Day in November. Read what we have to say about them here.

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  1. bike lanes, and other types of programs.

    Yeah, uh, the high speed rail may end up cheaper than the bike lanes. And more used.

    Seattle bike commuting hits 10-year low, census data show

    Last year, just 2.8 percent of workers who live in Seattle biked to work as a primary mode of transportation. The raw number of bike commuters is down, too.

    This is a column that, frankly, I’d rather not write.

    Full disclosure: I bike in Seattle, and I think it’s a great way to get around the city without adding to air pollution and traffic congestion. So I wish I could report that bicycle commuting is trending upward here

    1. Plus less douche bags are on trains, which cannot be said for bike lanes

      1. I’d go with same number of douche bags just less obviously douche-y without being decked out in head-to-toe spandex and bike shoes.

        1. They order all their bike wear from the shopping site, I’mbetterthanyou.com

      2. I don’t mind douchebag bikers on bike lanes. But I do mind douchebag bikers who think they own the whole damned road.

        1. We have “share the road” signs on our two lane country roads. The cyclasses love the scenic ride at 10 mph in 45 mph zones. I’ve been stuck behind them on one uphill stretch that is a 55 zone. I’m sure they bitch when they are stuck behind joggers on a bike trail.

        2. That’s what makes them douches

  2. Jarvis 2.0? I may start voting again.

  3. Choo choo.

  4. What “California conservatives”?

    1. Like the California Condor they are an endangered species. Unlike the California Condor they are not a protected species, and it some California counties it’s actually against the law to be one.

      As the ex-mayor of Mountain View once said, the only reason he’s a Democrat is because there’s no way in hell a Republican could win a non-partisan race in the city. I heard similar sentiments from the ex-mayor of San Jose.

      The Democratic machine runs California.

    2. my dad and his 2d wife but they’re usually in Hawaii or Idaho.

  5. Yeah, the “California Conservatives” will get right on when he and his wife get back from vacation.

  6. The CA gov’ts do infrastructure so well, too:

    “Crack in beam shuts down San Francisco’s new $2B terminal”
    “Coined the “Grand Central of the West,” the Salesforce Transit Center opened in August near the heart of downtown after nearly a decade of construction….”

    Actually, it’s been coined “World’s Most Expensive Bus Station” by those not involved in blowing the taxpayer money .

    1. Someday it may be more than a bus station. The city recently approved a route recommendation to get rail to the center. It will cost another $6+ billion and won’t be complete until a 2027.

  7. By the time they have a chance to stop it all of them will have been accused of doing…something wrong…at some time in the past…probably.

    1. Hey, if it shuts down this project, I’m pretty sure a high speed rail official touched me somewhere.

      1. maybe; but the official was undercover for TSA, so never mind.

    2. “The start of service for California HSR has been delayed again after allegations that one of the trains enter a tunnel without consent.”

  8. It’s a disaster that Gov. Jerry Brown insists on defending as some sort of legacy.

    A complete;y useless waste of funds that drives up a massive quantity of debt anyway? Sounds like pretty much the perfect legacy for ol’ Moonbeam.

  9. You how how crazy old men get with toy trains……

  10. Look over there! Is that the Sunk Cost Fallacy I see rearing its ugly head? I think it is!

  11. I’m not sure why Americans prefer to live in the dark ages. The high-speed rail not only will create jobs… real jobs, not Trump nonsense.. and provide a rail experience that few Americans have ever tried. I grew up in Europe and rode the trains pretty much all over rather than taking planes, and the last time I was in Europe, my family and I rode the high-speed rail from London to Paris. It was wonderful. No cramped seats and people, babies squalling next to you and kids crawling over you to go to the bathroom etc… You just get up and walk around. In fact pretty much every developed and many under-developed nations already have them. China, Japan, Spain, Turkey, Germany, France, England.. etc.. Heck even Russia and India are planning them…. Why do we feel we should remain lesser than any one of 25 other nations? How is squashing something like this a benefit to Americans?

    1. I grew up in Europe and rode the trains pretty much all over rather than taking planes, and the last time I was in Europe, my family and I rode the high-speed rail from London to Paris.

      If you grew up in Europe then you should have a clear idea of how different European cities and populations are distributed which makes trains much more cost effective than they do in the vast, sparse reaches of the United States. For a microcosm of a more “European” distribution, the northeastern seaboard of the US is a much better facsimile of what most of Western Europe is and therefore it’s no coincidence that it’s the one place in the country where trains (and Amtrak) can run with a modicum of cost-effectiveness.

      How is squashing something like this a benefit to Americans?

      Because there’s a false notion that a distributed transportation system is automatically “worse” than a centralized one.

      1. See also: Bikes are to Amsterdam != Bikes to Many American cities.

  12. Bridge is a very important thing for city economic development. It will connect more people, area, cities, even nation. A safe bridge need be all kinds of material testing before start project, such as concrete testing, steel bar tensile, etc. Normally, a good bridge is totally designed for 100 years life.

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