Friday, September 16, 2011

Ask anybody how much the California High-Speed Rail Project should cost

Adrian Moore puts this issue before us succinctly and clearly.  Here's the background:

Secretary of the Treasury Ray LaHood spoke at the International Airport in Oakland the other day, posing for a photo op in front of the new control tower under construction.  However the thrust of his speech was about High-Speed Rail in California and how it was going to solve all our problems and we should build it because it's good for us.

First of all, did he not know that the High-Speed Rail Route will go up the less populated Peninsula on the West side of the Bay, and not the East side to Oakland?  Oakland is not going to see high-speed rail in this, and probably not any, century.

Didn't former mayor of Oakland and now Governor of California Jerry Brown not whisper this fact in his ear?

LaHood also spoke at Oakland airport.  That airport is far less intensely used than San Francisco Airport.  Wouldn't it make sense that high-speed rail serves Oakland airport?  Well, it won't.  All of which is to say, Oakland airport is a funny place for LaHood to be making his sweeping and stunningly uninformed high-speed rail comments.

Adrian points out some of the other issues with LaHood's promises, such as Obama's promise of $4 billion in the transportation budget, which is not yet even legislation in the Congressional pipeline.  Indeed, the existing Transportation Budget, without any HSR funding in it, has been postponed -- extended -- yet again until March 31st of next year.

Furthermore, what Adrian doesn't yet know is what some of my colleagues have calculated based on the numbers from the CHSRA.  That is, the total development cost of this project will be not $43 billion, or even $67 billion.  It will be -- hang on to your hat -- $240 billion.  That, of course includes everything; calculated with what is commonly called "full-cost accounting."  In other words, that will be the bill we taxpayers will have to pay. 

My point here is that, even if California were to receive all $4 billion from Ray LaHood's Department of Transportation, and combined with all the other funds now available, how much of a dent would that make in $240 billion dollars?

Let me say this: NO high-speed rail supporter you can ask -- none of them -- will tell you the amount of money that would make this project too expensive to build.  Do you find that as scary as I do?  Ask Gov. Jerry Brown, and then ask him where that money is going to come from.

Sec. LaHood Invincibly Ignorant on CA High Speed Rail

Adrian Moore
September 16, 2011, 12:54pm

Ignore the naysayers -- full-speed ahead on high-speed rail, said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Oakland Tuesday, opens a San Francisco Chronicle blog post. LaHood went on to say "We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism because there is loud, loud amount of support for high-speed rail in California."

Can't you just picture him with his hands over his ears, "la la la la la la la! I'm not listening!"?

There has been a stream of news over the past year showing growing concern and opposition to CA's high-speed rail plan, including the Legislative Analysts Office questioning the plan.  My recent favorite is folks in the Central Valley saying WHOA to being given 45 days to comment on a 30,206 page draft Environmental Impact Report. Seriously?  That means they have to read 671 pages per day just to finish reading it by the deadline. To actually comment, more like 1000 pages a day. Does that seem reasonable? Does that invite public participation?  Or does that make you think of "la la la la la la la! We're not listening!"?

And while LaHood is ignoring those things, he is also ignoring basic math. Again from the Chronicle blog:

Asked whether Republican opposition means federal funding of high-speed rail is either dead or in hibernation, LaHood said: "No. . . . The president just put $4 billion for high-speed rail in the American Jobs Act."

a. that law has not even been introduced, so it is hardly a credible answer.

b. The plan calls for the Feds providing a minimum of $10 billion, though that still leaves the project over $20 billion short. So how is $4 bn nationally, of which CA can at best hope to get, what? $1 billion? going to help close that gap?

Any rational reading of LaHood's response is "don't count of the Feds to fund as much of this project as you hoped." Combine that with the reality that the private sector is not coughing up $20 bn for a project that won't make money, and that local governments are laying off workers, not lining up to pay $5 billion for the project.  So basically the financial plan is dead, dead, dead.  Admit it. Stop spending money on it.

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