Monday, April 16, 2012

Ken Alpern on High-Speed Rail: Planning, Consensus and Funding.

This is an excellent, but slightly edited (by me) article from Los Angeles; CITY WATCH. It was dated this afternoon at 3:06pm

Alpern cites some local bad examples pertaining only to the Los Angeles area. But he does devote considerable space to the high-speed rail debacle and how extremely badly it's been managed.  

Our own solution to this is simply to terminate it and save a vast amount of tax dollars, not lose very many jobs more than made up with infrastructure repair, and not build something that is absolutely not needed in California.

As Alpern puts it so well, we could use greater rail adjuncts to our driving, since our urban and regional highways are so crowded; that is to say, the demand is already there.  The driving-replacement public mass transit upgrades don't have to be a top of the line, fancy-pants railroads going zillions of miles per hour. They can be a highly improved, multi-modal commuter system NETWORK, including rail, connecting many distributed regions together throughout the LA Basin, and likewise in the Bay Area.

But to build an inter-city railroad the intent of which is to steal customers from the short-haul routes of the air carriers is a fundamental and serious strategic mistake. Alpern gets that quite right.

Alpern requires three factors in successful public infrastructure development, planning, consensus and funding.  High-Speed rail in California lacks all three. 

There is no planning; there is only lying and improvised "winging it."

There certainly is no consensus; to the contrary. 

There is no funding and that is the biggest mistake of all. 

About the absence of funding: Even as the costs continue to skyrocket and the rail authority continues to lie about it, it should be totally apparent that a cash-strapped state and nation are a poor place to look for hundreds of billions of dollars to build a train we don't need.

That's not rocket surgery. That's obvious and common sense. 

Bottom line here? Stop this high-speed rail project since it lacks the basic ingredients any such project must have.

Three Things a Transportation Project Must Have to Get Built
04.12.2012 KEN ALPERN

HOW THE CALIF BULLET TRAIN MISSED ITS MARK - No matter what lay people or Congressional or transit “experts” like to talk about, the way to get a transportation project built with public funds (regardless of whether it’s a road, rail project or a freeway), requires three critical elements:  Planning, Consensus and Funding.  Every truly honest political leader or transportation official will acknowledge that.

Which means that lots of studies and plans need to be evaluated before a general (or even rudimentary) consensus can be achieved, and only THEN can a governmental agency push for public funding that makes the grade without acrimony or controversy.  Any other way of doing things is pork-barrel politics that end up with the blowback that the Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere” dealt to our federal transportation funding process.

Other than the bean-counters and those wishing to make political points (as irrational or even successful as they might be), taxpayers WILL pay more for a better product:  


BAD EXAMPLE #1:  A $30-40 billion project approved by the voters suddenly skyrocketed to $98 billion with a very delayed construction completion date.  Former Governor Schwarzeneggar, the previous Legislatures and/or CAHSR Authority either deliberately fudged the details in a dreadful bait-and-switch, and/or our state’s collective learning curve went up only after we approved the project.

RESULT:  Instead of pursuing an alternative to the automobile to either Las Vegas, or from L.A. to San Diego, or from Central California to/from either the Bay Area or Southern California (which are all very much needed), we were promised an alternative to air travel from L.A. to/from San Francisco that was neither needed, realistic nor cost-effective.

BAD EXAMPLE #2:  Despite Governor Brown’s pragmatic cost-cutting alternatives to the aforementioned $98 billion CAHSR alternative, it may run afoul of election law because it has significant differences from what the voters approved.  A Congressional Committee has launched an examination of the CAHSR project for conflicts of interest and whether federal funds should go towards this project (LINK).

Aggravating this situation is the possibility that those providing the passenger and revenue estimates for the CAHSR project had conflicts of interest with private consulting firms hired to evaluate the project (LINK).

RESULT:  There will likely be no federal funds provided for this project any time soon, and there will also likely be a voter referendum to kill the CAHSR project.

Which is unfortunate, because our learning curve HAS gone up (it should have gone up this far years ago!), and we DO need improvements to Metrolink, Caltrain, Amtrak and other commuter rail networks as much as we need MetroRail and Interstate Highway improvements.  The blended approach promoted by Governor Brown and the current CAHSR Authority leadership  should have been presented to the voters in the first place.

It may be “too little, too late”, but if legal and/or political reality forces Governor Brown’s hands to do so, then a voter proposition is indicated to amend the previous CAHSR proposition.  It’s not hard to state that the current plan builds on our current infrastructure, is much more cost-effective, and can be built decades faster than the $98 billion monstrosity that was previously proposed by the CAHSR Authority.

But the case has to be made by the voters, who have to pay the tax bill and face either the benefits or consequences of this CAHSR project while they’re already paying for initiatives such as Measure R—which actually WAS presented in a fair, transparent and politically-appropriate manner.

The taxpayers already HAVE been duped and tricked (or so it appears) by lying, fudging consultants who had no problem deceiving the taxpayers for their own personal gain or ego, and the only way out is for Governor Brown to APOLOGIZE to the voters for what happened under his predecessors watch, and to stake his own credibility for a true statewide high-speed rail that really IS transparent, honest, and acceptable to the voters.

Because the taxpayers won’t be taken for another high-speed, consultant-rewarding Ride to Nowhere.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

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