Monday, November 7, 2011

Oakland, on the East Bay, isn't getting High-Speed Rail. Why? Are they too poor to ride it?

Here's a powerful editorial from the Oakland Tribune.  As we know, the high-speed train won't be going to Oakland or the East Bay.  That's too bad, since that's where so many people in the Bay Area live and work. But, that may be one reasons why the Oakland-Tribune can afford to take this honest stand about this project.

There isn't a word or thought here that you have not already read more than once in this blog. My point is that this is now the message of many newspapers as well as other news channels, like TV. I do believe that California newspapers are waking up. The recent business plan has been the "tipping point." 

The truth about the project and the rail authority's intentions are becoming apparent.  There's more information that needs to be made available.  For example, where did they get that $81 number for a train ticket in 2033? From a dart board?

Why is this message not being heard in Sacramento by the Democrats?

Oakland Tribune editorial: Reject high speed rail, or let voters decide on new plan
Oakland Tribune editorial
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 11/05/2011 04:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 11/05/2011 06:03:54 PM PDT

Back in 2008, the Times strongly advised voters to reject Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond measure. We believed that the then-estimated $45 billion cost of building a high-speed rail system serving the Bay Area, Sacramento, Central Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego was way too low.

Voters narrowly passed Proposition 1A, evidently trusting that the $45 billion cost estimate in the voter information guide was accurate.

Now, three years later, the California High Speed Rail Authority has developed a business plan that confirms our worst fears and drastically alters the rail system presented to voters in 2008.

The latest cost estimate is $98.5 billion, more than double what it was just three years ago. Far worse, the higher cost does not include rail lines to Sacramento or San Diego.

The new business plan is a game changer. What is now being offered is not what voters approved. Had residents in the Sacramento and San Diego areas known they were not going to be included, how many of them would have voted for Proposition 1A?

How many other Californians would have voted for a $98.5 billion rail system that left out two of the state's largest urban areas? How many Californians today think the $98.5 billion estimate for a partial rail system is the final figure? Certainly, those familiar with the Bay Bridge debacle might be more than a wee bit skeptical.

We also have grave doubts about the latest ridership estimates, upon which the financial feasibility of high-speed rail rests.

The new forecast predicts 36.8 million rides a year on a San Francisco to Los Angeles system. Where will they come from?

There are only about 3.2 million airline riders a year going to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco and another 1.7 million traveling between Los Angeles and Oakland and San Jose.

Without adequate ridership, there can be no net operating profits, which means there would be no private investment, which is essential for financing at least half the rail system. With tight budgets, no more federal money for high-speed rail is likely for many years.

Despite these concerns, the business plan calls for going ahead with an "initial construction section" of 130 miles of track in the Central Valley, spending $5.2 billion already on hand. This is supposed to be the spine upon which the first operating section will be built from Merced to the San Fernando Valley.

It would cost another $27.2 billion to complete. There is no realistic financing plan, and the ridership numbers are highly questionable. It makes no sense to throw $5.2 billion at a project that does not connect any major urban area and has scant chance of success.

The best course of action would be for the state to abandon the high-speed rail project. The $98.5 billion could be better spent on any number of needed transportation projects that serve the 95 percent of Californians who rely on cars and urban mass transit, instead of the 5 percent who might use intercity rail.

At the very least, voters should be asked again to approve the rail bond measure, based on the latest business plan. To continue the high-speed rail project citing the 2008 vote would be unfair to the voters. Both the cost and the route are quite different from what voters based their decision on three years ago. They deserve a chance to decide if high-speed rail at a much higher cost and fewer destinations is still worth it.

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