Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No High-Speed Rail for State #4: North Carolina possibly warming up

Ohio. Wisconsin. Florida.  Is North Carolina next?  They're considering refusing the "free" money from Washington for high-speed rail. Some there say that it will cost them too much.  

There is something fraudulent about this entire HSR program.  It's never talked about.  The government dangles several billions in front of those states with rail corridors.  They say, build a high-speed rail and we'll get you started with this stimulus money.  The federal government doesn't say whether they will give any more, or enough, money for this.  Perhaps one reason is that they don't have it to give. 

Given the current financial status of most states, it is easy to see how tempting this is. It has become an obsession for Democratic political leaders in their states.  Get that ARRA stumulus funding, they say, regardless of the quality or necessity of HSR.  Get even more federal dollars if possible. Lobby like crazy.

So far, only three states have said, it's not enough money to get the job done, and we don't have it ourselves. Furthermore, we are not going to go further into debt; we have enough debt  already.  The rest of the states aren't that smart, and they are also too greedy for the federal handouts. Short-term gains, for adverse long-term consequences!

What no one wants to talk about, after the expenditure of those several millions and billions, is, what's next?  Where will the rest of it come from? Those states aren't asking, "If we start this train enterprise, how do we pay to finish it and make it operational?"  Washington doesn't have answers to that question.  So far, only three states have turned those federal seed-money dollars down, and another may be on the way.

What I don't understand, although I should, is why states like California aren't also wising up.  Yes, California has a $10 billion bond issue to help pay for it. That is, the voters agreed to go into $20 billion debt for it. 

When the voters approved that bond issue, the total cost was going to be $33 billion.  Now the CHSRA is acknowledging $43 billion, although their own documentation indicates the costs will be $66 billion.  And that's hardly enough, as we already know from experience. 

So, even with the federal "seed money" of three billion, and a matching three billion from the bond issue, how will California pay for a $100 billion train?  Yes, it will be $100 billion and that's a low estimate.  Nobody knows.  But, what's for sure, the California taxpayers will inevitably be in the hole for so much more.  Private investors?  Forget about it!  There will be no surplus revenue; hence nothing to invest for.

So, what is California waiting for?  A few quick billions to brag about, and then let the future take care of itself, since Jerry Brown and all the other HSR supporters will be long gone?

Doesn't that sound like fraud to you?

Republicans to Perdue: Give high speed rail money back

BETH SHAYNE / NewsChannel 36
updated 3/23/2011 8:47:30 AM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Balking at the enormous price tag of investing in high speed rail, several Republicans at the North Carolina State House have introduced a bill to try to force Gov. Bev Perdue to return more than a half billion dollars in federal money meant for the project.

Tuesday, the governor announced that the state had reached an agreement with rail partners Norfolk Southern Railway Co., Amtrak and N.C. Railroad Co. that allows construction to begin on the state’s rail modernization program. That agreement released $461 million in stimulus money that has already been committed to pay for the project. Total, North Carolina has been awarded $545 million.

"No one has really been able to give definitive answers and meet my concerns with respect to what the financial reliability is on our citizens in the future," said Rep. Ric Killian, from Charlotte, who's one of three Republicans who introduced legislation Tuesday that would keep the NCDOT from accepting high speed rail funds without express authorization from the General Assembly.

It was not immediately clear if this technique has ever been attempted before. The governor's office is looking into its legality.

The project, expected to create 4,000 jobs, will include building a second track from Charlotte to Greensboro, building bridges to eliminate time-consuming crossings, and straightening tracks to allow the trains to travel at a faster speed. The state estimates, eventually, the work will shorten the length of travel from Raleigh to Charlotte by approximately 28 minutes.

"They are building it as a high speed train, but it's more like a mediocre train," said Capt. Robert Gomer, who was at Charlotte's train station Tuesday night picking up his wife.

"Is it really worth $8-$50 million per year [in maintenance costs] to decrease the travel time from Charlotte to Raleigh by an hour? How can that possibly be the most effective use of our financial resources?" Killian said.

Governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida returned their high speed rail dollars, but all three are Republicans. Gov. Bev Perdue is a Democrat who has praised the impact high speed rail will have on North Carolina's economy.

Her office would not comment on the pending legislation, but Patrick Simmons, NCDOT's rail director, said, "We are surprised by anyone that would want to fore-go $545 million in investment in N.C. that will help create jobs and put families to work, especially in this down economy."