I really should be packing for my trip to Seattle, but this could not pass without comment. Tim Hunt has an op-ed in today's Oakland Tribune calling high speed rail "ill advised". Far as I can tell the only thing ill advised is his op-ed:
And, when it comes to transportation, the bullet train is a remarkable boondoggle. Its board approved the environmental impact report last week that identified costs between $42 billion and $45 billion. If costs were half that much, it's way past time for voters to end this fantasy of politicians who love to spend your money.
This is ignorant nonsense. Because a $10 billion bond will not be floated all at once, but dribbled out over time and as needed, it is not likely to necessitate a tax increase. If it did the cost to the average Californian would be $750 total - going off of arch-conservative Tom McClintock's own numbers - or $37.50 a year if paid in annual installments. I just paid that much to fill up my car last night, whereas high speed rail would save me money.
Remarkably Hunt does not mention anywhere in his column the high price of gas. Nowhere does he mention the airline crisis. Nowhere does he mention the energy or climate crisis. And if it's the economy he's so concerned about, what does he have against the 450,000 jobs that this will create, many of them coming within the next few years when they will be desperately needed?
The language of the "boondoggle" is frequently used by transit opponents. Any government project with a big price tag is immediately seen as a recipe for ruin. The involvement of Parsons Brinckerhoff usually amplifies these cries - but as we have explained before this is to miss the key details entirely. The Big Dig, the usual whipping boy of anti-government critics, was a highly unusual and deeply mismanaged project. Rail projects, especially high speed rail projects, have routinely been delivered on-time and either on or very close to the original budget projections - including here in California.
Unfortunately he goes on:
And for those who still dream about BART extending to Livermore, the bullet train is yet another negative. The approved EIR shows the route coming over Pacheco Pass and then up the Santa Clara valley to San Jose and then north along the Peninsula to San Francisco. Livermore advocates hoped for a route that went through the Altamont Pass to a high-rail connection in Livermore between BART, ACE and the high-speed rail. Pleasanton would sue the pants off of any agency wanting to move more trains — let along high-speed trains — through its downtown, but it might live with a few more ACE trains with most of the passenger traffic taking BART.
The high-speed rail board decision ends that possibility and should send a clear message to Valley voters as well as those voting across the state.
That's odd. Here I thought there was a meeting just last week on extending BART to Livermore. And this notion that the HSR authority "ends the possibility" of more ACE trains or undermining BART to Livermore? Did he miss the part of the plan where Altamont is specifically designated as an HSR corridor that will get funds even though it's not on the main track? That such funds would almost certainly lead to an ACE boost? That plan would be immeasurably boosted by passage of AB 3034 but instead of bashing Republicans that have held it up, he goes after the Authority with a charge so baseless that it leads me to wonder whether Hunt has even the slightest clue of the basic details of the project.
This is a silly boondoggle and deserves to be buried now instead of consuming more precious public funds.
Remember, the state is still $15 billion-plus out-of-balance and could not afford this silliness in the best of times, let alone now.
This is sleight-of-hand, as the deficit and HSR are totally separate issues. The state Legislative Analyst, a respected nonpartisan office, concluded the state could afford this bond. More importantly, not building this will worsen the budget gap as Californians lose jobs and reduce spending due to high gas prices they can't avoid. Again Hunt completely ignores the crippling impact of those high prices on our economy, to which HSR is a partial but valuable solution.
High-speed rail may have its place in America — most likely moving freight between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to processing centers in the Inland Empire around San Bernardino — but it's certainly not trying to ship people north to south to compete with airlines.
Why not? Acela has taken 40% of the market share on the Northeast Corridor from the airlines. HSR in Spain - which is very similar to California in how its cities are distributed - is successfully challenging the airlines, especially on the Madrid-Barcelona route, one of the world's busiest.
Hunt seems to be completely ignorant of both the stunning global success of HSR as well as soaring ridership on California trains. Were he better informed he might not be making these kind of arguments.
Voters likely will face a $10 billion initial investment to be followed by several more bonds. It's well past time to stop throwing good money after bad on this project that is so ill-conceived that it doesn't even have a business plan.
Wrong again. It does have a business plan. 8 years old, yes, but it exists. AB 3034 would mandate that the Authority update the plan, but Republicans opposed it. Not exactly a good way of holding government accountable or providing the public the latest information, is it?
And, what's more, the current legislation in Sacramento calls for the engineering to be done by Caltrans instead of contracted to an outside firm. Caltrans already is a major roadblock to getting projects moving. That provision to require Caltrans engineering is a sop to the engineers' union and other public employee unions, and another strike against doing things efficiently. Caltrans, despite some good efforts by appointed leaders, defines government bureaucracy that consumes vast amounts of taxpayer and private money with little to show in progress or improvements.
Again, this is simply false. The provision in question was struck from the bill when it was amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Once again Hunt fails on even the basic facts of high speed rail. If he can't get those facts right, can we trust his arguments? Of course not. The only thing "ill advised" here would be assuming Hunt's op-ed is of any value in assessing Proposition 1.