This California high-speed rail project is a fraud. The law, AB3034 is very clear. There shall be no construction other than the least expensive segment, using the fewest Prop. 1A dollars, to build a high-speed rail usable segment, and all the funding shall be in hand prior to the beginning of construction. The intent of the law is also very clear. To prevent shenanigans and hanky-panky.
Well, we are watching the planning of illegal actions by the rail authority. What they will build is not a usable segment. Indeed, it isn't a segment at all as described in all the prior planning statements. Let's be clear here. A segment is from Merced to Fresno. Another segment is from Fresno to Bakersfield. Not outside any of those towns, but with railroad stations in each town at each end of each segment. However, that is not their intention. What they now intend to build is an incomplete section, not a segment. Former Board member Rod Diridon was well aware of this when he asked the state attorney if this plan was legal. The state attorney speculated that it wasn't.
If built, it will have only tracks and none of the supporting structures, such as electrification, necessary for high-speed rail. It won't have HSR rolling stock. By law, the rail authority has no right to build this.
In other words, they intend to violate the law with impunity. There will be no rail use for this first section. Their purpose is to use up the funding they have, and that will be the game from here on. Get the money and spend the money, regardless of what is constructed or if it has any transit value.
Elias gets it right. The intention is to get shovels in the ground as quickly as possible, whether actually legal or not. Their attitude has been, from the very beginning, If you don't like what we are doing, sue us!!! So far, that hasn't worked out very well for us. The rationale is dig holes which, once started, are harder to stop.
The longer they wait, the more time there is for more people in Washington to smell the rat in California. They might lose their federal funding. They've been smelling this rat in Sacramento for a long time but are too scared there to do anything about it for fear of losing the several federal billions already earmarked for this project.
Remember, there is no pro-active accountability over this project. That ball has been in the court of two State Senators, Simitian and Lowenthal. They have no intentions to reign in this loose cannon. There has been a lot of criticism and fault finding by responsible state agencies, such as the Inspector General, the State Auditor and the Legislative Analyst's Office.
And last, but not least, the rail authority's legally required peer review committee which does have oversight and has also sharply criticized the rail authority. But, no one has cut off their funding, put a hold on their work, required a re-organization of the CHSRA Board, or transferred responsibility to a more traditional administrative organization such as the Department of Transportation.
I could be terribly wrong about this, but my contention is that we will only receive relief from the threats of this monstrosity, if from anywhere, from the Republicans in Washington, not from either the Legislature or the Administration in Sacramento.
VENTURA COUNTY STAR
Posted January 26, 2011 at 7:01 p.m.
Thomas Elias: California's high-speed rail chooses a starting point
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
From almost the moment in 2008 that voters passed Proposition 1A and authorized $9.9 billion in state bonds for a high-speed rail (HSR) system spanning much of the state, opposition became loud and determined.
In places from Palo Alto to Washington, D.C., there has been screaming about things like bait-and-switch, poor route planning, false estimates of ridership and the charge that this will just plain be another government boondoggle.
Those crying out against the plan include city councils and congressmen, farmers and residents of cities to be bisected by 15- to 40-foot-tall viaducts that may eventually carry trains whooshing along at a top speed of 220 mph.
There have also been allegations of conflict of interest against HSR board members who serve on other boards and city councils. The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s chairman is Curt Pringle, a former Republican speaker of the state Assembly and the longtime mayor of Anaheim. Coincidentally or not, Anaheim is a major stop on the planned system.
All this provides a sense of urgency for project backers, who want desperately to get something solid on the ground to show voters before someone qualifies another ballot measure aiming to cancel out the 2008 vote.
Enter the stretch from the practically nonexistent hamlet of Borden in the southern part of Madera County, just across the San Joaquin River from Fresno County, to Bakersfield. That’s where the rail authority plans to build its first segment, one that won’t even be used until other stretches link it to big cities in either Northern or Southern California. By itself, then, this stretch will serve no one.
The moment the planned first segment was announced, critics began deriding it as a high-speed track to nowhere.
But the choice was probably dictated the moment the Obama administration last fall earmarked $715 million in federal money for Central Valley high-speed rail development. Those dollars need to be spent, or at least committed, quickly or there’s the threat that the new Republican majority in the House might try to make them go away, along with another $600 million added later. It still might happen. There was no chance the authority would simply kiss off more than $1 billion toward the $4.3 billion total estimated cost of the segment.
The HSR authority also knew it would almost surely get bogged down in lawsuits and other objections to its plans for the more congested, higher-use stretches of the rail line, designed to reach from San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco, with an eventual spur into Sacramento.
Never mind that building segments between San Diego and Los Angeles or from San Jose to San Francisco could serve myriad passengers right away, long before the largely rural area now chosen, whose main urban component, if it’s built, would cut through Fresno.
The agency isn’t talking about its real motives, but another one surely was to let the rest of California — and Congress and Obama — see as many as 80,000 new jobs generated by the time ground is broken on this part of the project, scheduled for no later than Sept. 12 because of deadlines for use of federal stimulus money.
There’s also the fact that Bakersfield Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the new No. 2 man in the GOP’s congressional hierarchy, has talked about forcing the HSR authority to give back $2 billion in stimulus funds. Commit the money to this quickly, and that might no longer be possible.
In short, this segment won’t serve anyone soon, but it would be a “fact on the ground,” allowing high-speed rail proponents to say that stopping work before the entire thing is built would waste what’s already been done, even if the tracks could be converted for use by normal trains.
It now seems likely that the High-Speed Rail Authority will get that much done. But the volume of opposition, and its merits — questions about everything from eminent-domain issues and effects on farming to apparently inflated ridership and revenue estimates and whether Chinese loans or investment should be allowed at some point — clearly indicate the authority should reconsider parts of its plan and go for something a bit more modest.
Perhaps the planned Pacheco Pass segment, running over the Coast Range along Highway 152, and the connecting San Francisco Peninsula segment, too, should be scrubbed in favor of a northern terminus near Livermore, with tracks running over the Altamont Pass beside Interstate 580. A terminus there could be linked to Bay Area Rapid Transit trains running nonstop into San Francisco, or possibly stop in Oakland en route.
That would largely mimic what Amtrak does now, with buses running from its trains in Emeryville to San Francisco. It would also save billions of dollars in land and construction costs, not to mention untold years of lawsuits.
— Thomas D. Elias of Santa Monica is an author and columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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