Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fantastic AB 3034 News

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

The Senate Transportation Committee today approved AB 3034 by an 8-4 vote. But as our friend Erik Nelson reports it included some great amendments, including Sen. Leland Yee's plan to restore the primacy of LA-SF:

The committee, at the urging of Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, restored language that restricted use of the $9.95 billion in bond proceeds to the "spine" of the 800-mile system, which is now slated to run from Anaheim to Los Angeles to San Jose and San Francisco through the Antelope and San Joaquin valleys.


Cathleen Galgiani was not aware of that change before entering the hearing room, which may cause some problems in reconciling the bills between the Senate and the Assembly. But the Senate's version is superior. LA-SF is necessary to be the spine of the project and the notion of building it in pieces was always a poor approach to the project's politics and efficiency. The original plan was sound: LA-SF first, then the extensions to SD and Sacto as a guaranteed Phase II. Rome wasn't built in a day, neither will HSR.

Nelson also reports that a rule change giving project design work to Caltrans is causing controversy:

One change that caused Republicans to bristle along with representatives of private contractors was one that says the High-Speed Rail Authority "shall utilize" the engineering and project design services of Caltrans, the state's transportation department.


Republicans, of course, are bent on privatizing all aspects of state government, even the good ones, regardless of whether it's actually cost-effective to do so - see a earlier post of mine on Calitics about the matter. Caltrans' record is excellent (the issues with the east span of the Bay Bridge were due to external political meddling), but there are apparently Constitutional questions surrounding this aspect of the amended bill, and the committee has not committed itself to that language.

Other aspects of the Senate Transportation Committee's amended AB 3034:

Among the bill's 33 provisions are limiting bond money from paying more than half of any track or station construction cost so that federal, private or local funds would have to pay for the remainder, and allowing only 10 percent of that money for planning and engineering costs.

The bill also would establish an eight-member independent review committee appointed by state financial and legislative leaders.


Both changes should help address the concerns with financial risk of the system, although the HSR deniers will surely not be appeased. The committee also directed the CHSRA to come up with a revised business plan by October.

Republicans opposed the proposal, unsurprisingly. Although some Republicans like Curt Pringle strongly support HSR others remain opposed to any action that will help the state address its energy and environmental crisis. Senate Republicans want to shackle the state to oil and cars and eliminate alternative transportation. Thankfully Senate Democrats have come around and understood the value of high speed rail and provided some necessary fixes to AB 3034.

We will now work to ensure the bill passes the Senate and that these changes are accepted by the Assembly, so that we can move forward with the Yes on Prop 1 campaign for November. High speed rail's time has come, and the California legislature is showing some welcome if overdue leadership on this.

16 comments:

Rob Dawg said...

Aren't you aafraid the "spinal tap" language will weaken support Statewide or is it a wash as it becomes more popular SF-LA?

On a technical note it appears that the Senate bill and proposition are in conflict as to system extents. The bond is supposed to cover engineering for the entire network but the bill restricts spending to the LA-SF segment.

I say time and again that voter confusion always leads to defeat.

Morris Brown said...

@Robert

I attended the meeting and have posted a short note on what took place.

You should indeed be pleased with what appears to be the restoration of the original route structure as the first priority for construction.

A bit curious is the route being loosely designated as Anaheim to LA to the Bay Area. The point here is the northern end being stated as Bay Area, and not San Jose - San Francisco. I don't really understand this change, but the route was definitely to be labeled .... Bay Area, and not ... San Jose / San Francisco. Certainly they didn't want to get into the Pachecho / Altamont controversy.

My take is Pachecho vs. Altamont is still undecided.

It should be noted, that in contrast to the Assembly passing this bill with virtually no opposition, there is serious opposition in the Senate. What passed through the Assembly has been modified in a major way by the Senate committee. It is indeed interesting.

The peer review of the revised business plan as now being offered, will not have any effect on the fall election, since it will not be available until well after Nov 4th. This is really poor government. As I told the committee, an independent business plan needs to be prepared on the same time line so the voters can really see what they are getting, and not just the plan from the CHSRA. I certainly had support from Senator Roy Ashburn on that point.

bikerider said...

The reason Pacheco was not specifically mentioned in the language was for purely legal reasons. The EIR has yet to be approved at the Federal level, and until that happens there can be no official route selection. Make no mistake: the authority intends on proceeding with its unacceptable Pacheco route.

As for a peer-reviewed business plan, that would indeed be very interesting. The original plan (way back in the 1990s by UC Berkeley) came up with totally opposite conclusions than the new and improved (i.e. politically manipulated) plan.

Rafael said...

I've previously argued that it might be a good idea to secure statewide political support by starting at all four endpoints of the network simultaneously and progressing toward the middle, with the "golden spike" at Tehachapi Pass.

In re-affirming the original idea of a north-south starter line, the state senate has avoided throwing CHSRA a curve ball. However, this project phasing concentrates the risk of delays and cost overruns on the spur to San Diego and especially, on the one to Sacramento - something voters there will understand intuitively even before the chattering classes spell it out for them.

The reality of California is that most intercity trips today - and according to CHSRA's own analysis - occur within the Bay Area, within the Central Valley and within Southern California, plus a fair number between neighboring areas. Trips between north and south actually represent only a modest fraction of the total, though HSR is expected to capture a high share of that market segment and relieve airport congestion.

CHSRA says that giving priority to the north-south link will maximize operating revenue since the seats will be occupied for most of the route. Of course, this argument is closely tied to the fare structure. CHSRA's model is essentially proportional to trip distance, which correlates roughly with the operations overhead and mirrors current practice in many other countries.

However, other structures would also be possible and indeed, fair. For example, a basic fare could consist of a fixed amount plus a variable portion based on distance traveled. Passengers who occupy a seat for only a short distance would then help pay for the reduced capacity utilization. This applies especially to medium-to-long distance commuters, but they are also the ones that derive the greatest personal benefit from high speed rail service. With gasoline prices structurally high, commuting by rail has never been more attractive.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the problem definition: is CHSRA supposed to deliver only the fastest possible link between northern and southern cities or, a network that is tailored to match the expected statewide interregional traffic patterns?

If it's the latter, then slightly longer SF/SJ/Sacramento-Anaheim/San Diego line haul times would be acceptable if the alignments and timetable do a better job of supporting shorter routes, e.g. SF-Sacramento, SF-Merced, Sacramento-Bakersfield, Fresno-Anaheim, LA-San Diego and Anaheim-San Diego. In that context, what is currently billed as an "HST overlay" ought to entirely replace the currently preferred Pacheco Pass option. In addition, a shortcut along highway 57 between Pomona and Anaheim might make sense.

Note Pacheco Pass could be turned into a new freight corridor between the Central Valley and the Bay Area/Central Coast. Offering that ROW to UPRR and BNSF might be a valuable bargaining chip, even if those companies would have to shoulder the bulk of the cost of track construction. Significant adjustments would be required to achieve acceptable gradients and tunnel lengths.

Rafael said...

My apologies, in my previous post the phrase

"and according to CHSRA's own analysis"

should read

"and according to CHSRA's own analysis, in 2030"

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't see how it will weaken statewide support - instead of saying to the entire state "you might get something" it says to most of the state "you WILL get something" and says to SD and Sacramento "all in good time."

The bill changes the proposition language. No confusion necessary.

Morris, the only "good government" you appear to believe in is "government that doesn't build a high speed train near my property." Californians understand the issues involved here and will have time to read the business plan themselves. If they rushed it to completion earlier than October you'd be complaining it was incomplete.

Also, the amended bill does indeed require federal funding - because the language states that the bond money may not be used to pay for more than half the construction costs of stations or track. That inherently requires extra funding. You should be pleased by that - but since you want to kill the project you're not going to be mollified.

And yes, the authority does seem interested in going with Pacheco. It's a perfectly acceptable route. The key is that one pass or the other is chosen and we stick with it. Pacheco is the choice, now let's focus on the bigger picture of passing the bond in November.

Todd Luvs Loungin' said...

I was first against this bill and posted my opposition but I have come around to supporting high-speed rail after doing some research. Sticker-shock and the huge size of the project caused my first reaction. I can already see the anti-CHSR group forming in my mind: airline, auto, oil and anti-tax groups and their anti-CHSR ads. They will attack the cost (even though when the system is finished, it will be profitable). They will say there is no guarantee of federal support (even though the political will and money for such support is building in Washington). They will say that the San Diego or Inland Valley spur will never be built.

That's why I would support the Assembly's bill over the Senate's. The Assembly bill would make it easier to build political support in both conservative and liberal areas in the most populous region of the state. Moreover, I'm positive in six or seven years, another bond bill be needed and by that time CHSR will have generated positive goodwill in the most populous areas. It will be easier to sell to Southern-Californians if they can see positive results sooner rather than later. O.C. residents and Angelenos would be in favor of building the SF-LA/Anaheim spine first, but selling the idea that Inland Valley residents and San Diegans would have to wait 8-12 years would probably fail to win the crucial support needed for this measure to pass.

Car-less in San Diego said...

My opinion regarding the "spine" / phasing issue is not very strong either way. My issue is with the guarantee of phase II.

If none of the bond money is slated for the SD and Sac spur now what is the guarantee that they will happen in the future? When will they happen?

Now that those spurs are specifically not funded in this measure it would seem that another ballot measure will be required down the road to build out to SD and Sac. If any negative press falls on CAHSR in the interim a new ballot measure will not be widely supported. SD and Sac would likely vote for it but would the rest of the state?

Rob Dawg said...

A bit curious is the route being loosely designated ... as Bay Area, and not San Jose - San Francisco. I don't really understand this change, but the route was definitely to be labeled .... Bay Area, and not ... San Jose / San Francisco. Certainly they didn't want to get into the Pachecho / Altamont controversy.

My take is Pachecho vs. Altamont is still undecided.


The first scoping studies 20 years ago were all about whether to terminate the end of Caltrains service area and only later going to SF. I suspect this is the secret plan 'b' fallback in the event of cost overruns or underfunding.

mike said...

robdawg - I seriously doubt they would ever consider terminating at 4th & King, but even if they did, that would still be in SF. Labeling things as SJ-SF vs. Bay Area in no way affects whether they end at the Transbay Terminal or 4th & King...it's totally irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the derail HSR cadre can't see the writing on the wall, they are on the wrong side of history.

It seems like their time and energy could be much better spent. If they are so worried about the impact of construction on their community and their Atherton condos, why not lobby to mitigate those impacts?

Why not raise money for an arieal structure or subway through Menlo-Atherton? It's not like they can't afford it!

If the libertarians wern't so damn stingy with public money we could actually build nice attractive infrastructure rather then the cheapest possible.

Anonymous said...

Since this is the third item that pops up when you search "california high speed rail" on google, it would help the campaign if you were less partisan. Your opinions of the republican party in california would turn off conservative voters to the project if they were to see your posting. For the sake of HSR in california, please try to have a bipartisan approach to the issue. After all, HSR is something that will help everyone in the state regardless of political affiliation.

morris brown said...

@bikerider

There was a lot going on during the committee neeting, but I believe Kopp said that the EIR was now approved at the Federal level. I'm not sure about that, you might want to check with Erik Nelson, but it was mentioned and I think that was the answer.

Eric said...

I agree with annon's second post about toning down the punches at political parties (or showing too much support for another). Don't inadvertently alienate people that already support this project. It needs all the support it can and with this being a great informative website, you don't want to put a sour taste in any ones mouth that supports it. There is already too much politics involved, don't add anymore.

On a different note, go HSR!!
Vote yes on Prop 1!!

Robert Cruickshank said...

My punches were aimed at Senate Republicans specifically, whose record on balancing the budget and providing for transit solutions is truly abysmal. They deserve no quarter.

If other Republicans in California support the project that is wonderful - and the best way for them to show their support is to lobby their Republican legislators to support the passage of AB 3034 and the passage of Prop 1 in November.

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