Saturday, March 31, 2012

Will the State Legislature throw sand into the High-Speed Rail machine? I don't think so.

This article just appeared on my search engine web site. What's going on here?

Governor Jerry Brown wants the high-speed rail project in the worst way.  The reason is that it comes with $3.5 billion attached from the Department of Transportation in Washington.  Had it not been for those ARRA Stimulus awards, now several years old, this project would have died a natural death, so richly deserved.

As it is, those free dollars mean everything to our Governor and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature. They legitimize their effort to rectify the budget deficit and create jobs in the Central Valley with the highest unemployment numbers in the state. (As if!)

So, the Governor, seeking to manage the mismanagement of the rail authority, moved the Chairman of the CHSRA (Tom Umberg) down a notch and replaced him with his right-hand man, Dan Richard.

Richard sought to set the erroneous record straight and issued a more generous cost forecast for this project, from around $45 billion to something up to $117 billion.  O-H-M-Y-G-O-D!  OK, you know what happened then. Women fainted. Little children screamed. Grown men wept uncontrollably.

So, to fix this public-relations boo-boo, High-Speed Rail economist Governor Brown laughingly dismissed those numbers, claiming it would cost nowhere near that much, and there were things that could be done to bring the price down, including using existing rail corridors in the two major population regions.

Excuse me? Isn't that what they were going to use in the first place?  Well, yes. But now it would be a far more Spartan and parsimonious version, without extra tracks and other major expansion requiring land acquisitions or elevated viaduct structures.  The HSR trains would run slower.  (We could call them not-so-high-speed-trains.) Therefore, much cheaper.  Now the whole damn thing, from San Francisco to Los Angeles wouldn't cost the prior $117 billion, but the new and improved $68 billion.

Problem solved. Everybody now happy? Well, not entirely. How did those numbers drop?  They'll give us the details this coming Monday in their new Non-Business Plan (I call it that since they are actually not a business). My conjecture is that by eliminating the infrastructure expansion intended for the Caltrain corridor in the North, and all the Metrolink corridor additions in the South, they claim they will have saved those $30/40 billion. 

For the time being, that is. They don't have the money for those four track elevated viaducts anyhow so why scare everybody.  When they get the money, it will be back to Plan A for both the Bay Area and the LA Basin. 

By then, Senators Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Mark DeSaulnier will be out of office, Simitian and Lowenthal leaving this coming November. Problem solved again. They won't have to make any Draconian decisions.  They can punt. And that's what they will do either by or after the promised June 15.  

After all, as Senator Simitian pointed out, ". . . the authority "seems to have been listening and making an effort to be responsive."  Well, I'm certainly reassured, aren't you?

The new business plan will be found severely wanting, of course.  As these HSR plans always are. But, that won't stop these hardworking, busy dwarfs from their day jobs. They are getting ready to dig, dig, dig in the Central Valley, because the FRA, in order to hand over the $3.5 billion, requires this as as the commencement site.  And the state legislature will support this project regardless of questionable legalities or sundry dishonesties.

And, the fancy foot-work of the regional and local transportation busy-bees both North and South will have secured additional billions, legal or not, to upgrade their regional commuter lines and call them the "blended system," thereby assuring high-speed rail's presence on their corridors sometime before the sun finally explodes.

Do you remember when we said on this blog that the underlying agenda is not to complete this train?  That's almost unimaginable. But to get the process started and keep it going in perpetuity. That's what a real government money machine looks like. 

You how hard it is to kill the voracious gophers that are destroying your garden? By comparison to this project, that's child's play. Why? Because it's not about the train; it's about the money.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Posted by David Siders
Lawmakers skeptical about Jerry Brown's high-speed rail revision

California lawmakers expressed skepticism Saturday about the timing and magnitude of Gov. Jerry Brown's high-speed rail revision, saying it may take longer than the governor wants to sort through the numbers.

The administration will announce Monday settling on $68.4 billion, according to sources familiar with the plan, proposing major design changes in and around Los Angeles and the Bay Area in an eleventh-hour bid to improve the project's chances of approval by the Legislature.

But some legislators noted today that just last year the Brown administration itself raised the proposed cost to $98 billion.
"We are a matter of weeks away from various budget deadlines," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. "When the cost estimates are up and down and up and down by orders of magnitude here, I think folks are going to want to make sure we spend some time to understand how reliable are these figures, and what's the basis for the new estimate."

Simitian, chairman of the budget subcommittee considering high-speed rail, said the authority "seems to have been listening and making an effort to be responsive," but that the Legislature is unlikely to appropriate funding - as Brown is expected to request - before the state budget is adopted in June.

"I think we're going to have to look past the June 15 budget adoption date," he said.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said legislative approval of the plan before that date would require a "heroic effort."
"It's the biggest capitol project in the history of the state, and it should be done properly," he said. "Given that the numbers have bounced around so much, it's a lot to ask."

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