Wednesday, February 9, 2011

John Mica and the California HSR project

Now you can see in this article what I've been driving at. What happens in Washington will be life or death for high-speed rail in California.

The key player in all this is the head of the House Transportation Committee, John Mica.  We've heard from him frequently in recent days, most recently in response to Obama's global vision of funding for HSR with $53 billion dollars Obama doesn't have and hasn't explained where he would get it.

Here in this McClatchy Bureau report by Michael Doyle, we learn further about Mica's position regarding the California project.  Mica is treading softly. He's skeptical about California's HSR project, but wants more information.  He has already obviously been told about the CHSRA ridership fiasco.  He sees the image of the Central Valley as a rail to nowhere.  

There certainly is a lot more information available to his office about the train and it's anticipated shortcomings.  We have our work cut out for us to provide as much data as possible.  

Then the other voice heard from is Jim Costa, the Democratic Congressman from Fresno who was just re-elected.  Go ahead and ask me why Costa was re-elected.  It's because the FRA, with White House guidance no doubt, threw additional funding at the rail project IN HIS DISTRICT and did so just before the November elections.  By obliging the rail authority to begin it's initial construction (and spending) in the Central Valley, it assured political benefits to Costa, a Democrat in a Republican region.  So,talk about political earmarks and election buying. Does Jim Costa support high-speed rail?  Well, his career certainly depends on it. 

Our fate in California is in John Mica's hands. It's also in the hands of those Republicans, like Tom McClintock of California, who has been an opponent of high-speed rail for over a decade. There are other Republican Congressmen and women from California who have done their homework about this HSR project. Although Republicans are a minority in the state legislature, they are the majority in the House.  That counts for a great deal. 

This has already been a heavy news day for us (today saw 13 new articles in this blog) and surely the next days and weeks will bring more of the same. 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Posted on Wed, Feb. 09, 2011
Key lawmaker questions California's high-speed rail plan
Michael Doyle | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: February 09, 2011 07:41:04 PM

WASHINGTON — The influential chairman of the House transportation committee voiced skepticism Wednesday about California's high-speed rail plans.

While not ruling out eventual support for California, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he's unimpressed by what he's seen so far. Mica specifically questioned the state's current plans to start with tracks connecting a rural stretch of the San Joaquin Valley.

"The problem with the California pick is that even if they build it, the ridership in that location is not going to be the best," Mica said.

Relying on some $3.2 billion in federal funds promised to date, California's High-Speed Rail Authority identified a route between Corcoran and rural Madera County as the first stage of the state project. Officials subsequently extended the initial route as far south as Bakersfield.

In time, officials hope that an 800-mile high-speed rail system will run from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Speaking at a conference of high-speed rail advocates, Mica underscored his preference for investing in the nation's heavily traveled Northeast corridor. Pointedly, he warned the rail professionals gathered Wednesday that "if (we) build California's project, and nobody rides it," then overall public support for high-speed rail could diminish.

"It may be able to achieve high speed, but the problem is it may be lacking in ridership and will have to be subsidized for some time," Mica said of the California proposal. "That's not the best model."

Mica added in a brief interview that "we'll have to find out more" about California's plans, and he emphasized that he's still in the information-gathering stage.

Mica's views matter, in particular, because his 59-member panel formally known as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be writing a six-year transportation authorization bill this year. This bill could be a blueprint for federal high-speed rail work.

"There is no better place to start than California," insisted Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Speaking before the same high-speed rail conference, Costa stressed that "California is home to the second, third, and fifth most-trafficked corridors serviced by Amtrak." He called the high-speed rail proposal an "economic and quality of life game-changer" for the San Joaquin Valley.

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden presented the Obama administration's own initial bargaining position, with a call for $8 billion in high-speed rail spending next year and a total of $53 billion for high-speed and inter-city rail over the next six years.

The six-year plan is where Mica and his committee will come in. The panel includes six Californians.

The give and take will accelerate later this month, as the House transportation panel conducts a nationwide series of hearings including ones in Fresno and Los Angeles. 

The hearings conducted sometime between Feb. 17-25 will give skeptics and proponents alike a chance to make their case, as the committee pushes to complete its bill-writing by about September.

"One of our jobs is to explain the strategy that we have come up with," said Fresno developer Tom Richards, a board member of California's High Speed Rail Authority.

The Fresno hearing will be followed by a session in Los Angeles, where Mica will join forces with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. A committee spokesperson did not return repeated calls Wednesday seeking details about hearing dates, and California congressional offices had no additional information on timing.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010