Monday, December 19, 2011

When it comes to high-speed rail, who cares about the law?

Here's an editorial from the San Diego Union.  To remind you, that's from a city that was promised to be the terminal of the southern end of the California HSR route, with Sacramento being the northern one.  Fat chance!  

Even though the rail authority continues to pour funding into studies and plans (a favorite activity of all bureaucrats) for the San Diego leg, there is no way that this segment, from the Los Angeles Union Station to San Diego, will ever be funded.

The point this editorial makes is legality.  The California laws governing the construction of the HSR are clear.  There can be no government subsidies for train operation.  The train must make the SF to LA trip in 2:40 hours.  What must be built initially and at any time, are segments for which funding is fully in hand and such segments must have independent utility as a high-speed train corridor in actual operation.

What the CHSRA now plans and is determined to construct, fails to meet those legal requirements on each of those points.  There have been other violations, such as required and missed deadlines, but no one is making a fuss about those. 

The Union-Trib. points out these as well as the flagrant ignoring of the federal legal requirements.  US laws are also not being met by the DOT and FRA.

What's going on here? 

The answer to that question is simple: POLITICS.  No law has any meaning unless it's enforceable and is enforced.  The Democrats have no interest in enforcing any laws, state or federal, pertaining to this train, since it's such a hot-button project loaded with outrageous promises (such as Nancy Pelosi's claim of millions of jobs), and we are headed into what will be one of the most hotly contested elections in a long time.

Neither Party has any interest in actual governance or solving any actual transit problems.  This has become nothing more than a struggle for dominance, and high-speed rail is one of the footballs.  It's Theatre of the Absurd.  Decisions are driven by vacuous ideologies in the hopes of persuading the voters. All the promotional rail rhetoric is devoid of any truth-value.

Things are going to be, to put it politely, extremely unpleasant until at least November.  And, ceremonial construction events are sure to take place next Fall in the Central Valley, regardless of what the laws require, promoted by Democrats eager to pour federal dollars into the state as grandiose pre-election gestures.

And, the laws be damned!   One lawsuit is already in the works.  I'm hoping for many more.

Legal obstacles to bullet train matter
By Union-Tribune Editorial Board
Monday, December 19, 2011

The Thursday hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on California’s high-speed rail project quickly settled down to a rehash of talking points. 

Defenders of the bullet train plan touted its visionary qualities, how it would boost the state’s infrastructure and help the environment while creating jobs. Critics of the plan ripped its hallucinatory qualities, its discredited initial estimates on cost, ridership, ticket prices and much more.

Given that critics could cite so many neutral independent analysts in their arguments, one could conclude they came out ahead in this sparring. But at a basic level, the House hearing wasn’t helpful in that it didn’t focus nearly enough on something very basic: the key state and federal laws guiding the project.

In several ways, the present plan for the bullet train appears to violate the complex 2008 state law providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the train system. Some are familiar: The law says no additional public subsidies can be provided for the project, but officials say they will need a ridership or revenue guarantee to attract billions of dollars from private investors, as the law also requires. Such a guarantee amounts to a promise of subsidies if ridership or revenue is less than projected. Others are newly emerging: Many experts simply don’t believe the train can fulfill the promise in the 2008 law to travel from downtown Los Angeles to San Francisco in no more than two hours and 40 minutes.

But what’s been less publicized is that, in several ways, the federal funding for the train system appears to violate the 2009 stimulus law passed by Congress, which provided billions of dollars to infrastructure projects around the nation. According to stimulus regulations, which have the force of law, federal dollars can only be provided to states whose projects, after “rigorous analysis,” are shown to have a sound “financial plan (capital and operating)” with reasonable cost estimates and that meet a minimum “quality of planning process.”

But the state Legislative Analyst’s Office’s rigorous analysis and several other independent evaluations have shown the California High-Speed Rail Authority doesn’t have a sound financial plan at all. Most obviously, the authority hasn’t established a plausible way to raise the original $32 billion cost forecast for the project, much less the current $98 billion. The quality of its planning process has been so poor that many state lawmakers of both parties have backed attempts to move control of the project to another government agency.

We think it’s time the political sideshows subsided in favor of a much more straightforward debate: Can this project be built in accordance with state and federal law? Based on every iteration of the business plan released to date by the rail authority, the answer appears to be no.

© Copyright 2011 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

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