Saturday, February 11, 2012

Three Republican Congressmen speak out about California's High-Speed Rail Project

Here is a statement by three Republican Congressmen from California about high-speed rail in our state. 

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Majority Whip, House of Representatives

House Committee on Ways and Means

As we know, by and large the House Republicans strongly oppose high-speed rail as a program in the United States and as a project in California.  The head of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. John Mica, acknowledges the possibility of developing a high-speed rail capacity on the Northeast Corridor, from Washington, to Boston by way of New York City.  That is the most actively used transit route in the US and connects the highest population density metropolitan areas in the US. 

However, it is generally understood that the House Republicans are adamant opposers of high-speed rail in general and have eliminated any funding for the California project as well as other rail projects labelled high-speed.  

The Senate, which is Democratic in its majority, favors the President's HSR program and vision, seeing it as the opportunity for providing federal funding for jobs programs to alleviate massive unemployment, particularly in the construction sector. Nonetheless, the Senate version of the Transportation budget also excludes further funding for high-speed rail.

The basic dilemma comes from the fact that the Democrats, favoring employment stimuli, persist in supporting a concept and projects that have never had adequate cost/benefit analyses conducted by the Department of Transportation, even today. 

At the same time, there are vast areas of infrastructure repair and maintenance that would be equally eligible for the vast funding high-speed rail requires, and these needs have been demonstrably justified.

Briefly, we need massive repair and support for metropolitan transit systems across the US. We need vastly improved electric power distribution and generation capacity since demands have skyrocketed. We need water for both agriculture and personal use and have an antiquated delivery system highly susceptible to failure. 

Where are our priorities? Why must the construction of an expensive luxury train from San Francisco to Los Angeles have pre-eminence over these other, more basic and more compelling needs? What is wrong with us?

The basic message of the Republicans in the House of Representatives is pretty well captured in these comments.

JEFF DENHAM, KEVIN MCCARTHY AND DEVIN NUNES: We stand against high-speed rail
By Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes
Friday, Feb. 10, 2012 | 02:28 PM

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in the Central Valley recently to talk high-speed rail. He extolled the positive impacts this rail line would have in our state and in the Valley in particular. Unfortunately, his perspective is contrary to the cold hard facts about California’s HSR project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan has been roundly criticized by financial and transportation experts alike. The state auditor called the funding plan “increasingly risky.”

The Peer Group specifically empowered to review the project called the business model incomplete and recommended the Legislature not approve funding for construction. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has even questioned whether the plan complies with the stipulations set out in Proposition 1A.

Furthermore, the project is becoming increasing unpopular with California voters. In a recent Field Poll, 59% of Californians said that if given the chance to vote again on HSR, they would vote “no.”

Supporters of HSR talk about this project being something to leave behind for our kids and grandkids. But if it is allowed to move forward, the only thing it will leave them is a mountain of debt.

The most recent cost estimate weighs in at $98 billion. That’s three times higher than the original estimate and eight times more than the CHSRA has to spend. The CHSRA has just over $12 billion in funding secured (most of which comes from the $10 billion HSR bond California taxpayers will have to pay back).

The prospects of the state finding tens of billions of additional dollars from general revenue for HSR is unrealistic given Sacramento’s continuing financial challenges.

In its planning documents, CHSRA counts the private sector as contributing $11 billion to the cause, but investors are nowhere to be seen. Their plan also assumes $55 billion from the federal government, but Washington is looking at its fourth year of $1 trillion deficits, and as Valley representatives, we are fighting to get our budget into balance by cutting waste and spending smarter, something HSR does neither of.

There is only one way this project can be paid for: more borrowing. And that means higher taxes and/or bigger cuts for California.

It’s not just money the project is missing, it’s credible ridership estimates as well. The CHSRA suggests that the rail line will serve between 29 and 43 million riders per year. If we take a look at the busiest passenger rail line in the country, the Northeast corridor, we see how ridiculous those numbers seem.

Last year, the Northeast’s regional and Acela services carried 10.3 million passengers. That’s 19 million fewer passengers than California’s “low” estimation. Furthermore, the average roundtrip fare from San Francisco to Los Angeles is estimated at $162. Yet it costs almost twice that to travel from Washington to New York using the Northeast’s HSR service. The promises of HSR are based in hope and fanciful estimations, not facts.

HSR is not worth bankrupting California and adding new and painful burdens on taxpayers. Turning a blind eye to the growing amount of evidence stating that this project is not ready for primetime is not just irresponsible, it’s negligent.

We refuse to stand by and allow those who choose to ignore the facts push this project to construction, and we will continue to fight to put a stop to it. We are working to move legislation to freeze unspent federal dollars for this project in the upcoming transportation bill.

At a time when we’re struggling to find ways to pay for existing programs, we should not be moving forward on a new massive expenditure for a fatally flawed project that doesn’t even have a secured funding source, not to mention the additional annual costs in operating subsidies.

California taxpayers can’t afford it, and Washington has its own spending problems we are trying to fix. We stand with the majority of Californians who see this project as a billion dollar boondoggle and will keep fighting to ensure your hard-earned dollars aren’t thrown at a train to nowhere.

No comments: