Monday, November 17, 2008

Florida's Cautionary Tale

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

California isn't the first state to get this far along on building a high speed rail project. Texas and Florida have been there before us, and both projects fell apart. In Texas Southwest Airlines and then-governor George W. Bush helped kill the project, which was already weak because the state hadn't offered any funding.

Florida had gotten much further along in the process, as the Lakeland Ledger reminisced yesterday:

Florida was working on establishing high-speed rail links when Gov. Jeb Bush was elected in 1998. But during his first two weeks in office, Bush killed the project. In 2000, Lakeland businessman C. C. "Doc" Dockery, also a former chairman of the Florida High-Speed Rail Commission, managed to gain 53 percent approval for a constitutional amendment that called for work to begin on a high-speed rail link by Nov. 1, 2003.

But in 2004, Bush and some supporters in the Legislature had the issue back on the ballot to repeal the law. That amendment passed with 64 percent support, although the High-Speed Rail Commission still remains in existence, but has been mostly inactive.

"Those trains would be up and running now," if Bush hadn't interfered, said Dockery last week. "It would have created a construction boom and a lot of jobs."

There is a key difference between California, Texas and Florida - we have a clearly-identified and secured state funding source. Neither Texas nor Florida had that, which made it easier for the Bush Brothers to kill high speed rail in those states.

That doesn't mean our own project is safe. We've already seen HSR deniers call for the bond sales to be delayed. You can be assured that the deniers, and some Republicans in Sacramento, will continue to resist this project by refusing to sell the bonds, refusing to spend the bond money, or throwing up other delays. And there will be those in Congress who will resist using federal money to help build our project. They didn't respect the will of the voters in Florida after 2000 - and they may not do the same here in California after 2008.

Florida's experience is a stark reminder of the need to be vigilant in protecting our victories on high speed rail. We'll continue to keep you informed about the political battles within California and in the Congress over HSR and let you know when and how to get involved to ensure that our high speed train gets built.

23 comments:

Rafael said...

California needs to amend its constitution such that state budgets can be passed by a simple majority. Only then will politicians from both parties be forced off their lofty ideological perches and figure out how to balance the budget without any accounting gimmicks. That means higher taxes, lower spending or both. That's a tough trade-off in a down economy.

As long as budgets need a 2/3 majority to pass, California politicians will point fingers at each other and avoid risking the wrath of their constituents. That means the state will have a permanent budget crisis that jeopardizes useful long-term investments such as HSR.

Over time, this one particular aspect of the state constitution could sharply reduce California's competitiveness in the 21st century.

At least there are no members of the Bush clan in position of power in California...

Brian Goldner said...

the other major difference:
California's governor isn't named Bush (oh and he supports the project too)

Rafael said...

Just for reference, here are some maps of (potential) high speed rail corridors and the emerging economic mega-regions they would serve in the US and Europe.

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US megaregions, a concept developed by planners to guide strategic infrastructure investment.

- 10 designated high speed rail corridors in the US

These are the only corridors that are potentially eligible for a slice of the $1.5 billion in HSR funds in HR 2095. Note that Las Vegas is considered part of the SoCal megaregion but not (yet) part of the designated HSR corridors.

Same for Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville, a project being mulled because Georgia wants to divert water from the Tennessee river.

- eastern Rockies could become corridor #11

Based on the megaregion studies, Phoenix-Tucson arguably as a stronger claim but Arizona is making no effort to add itself to the list.

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Canada is studying Windsor-Quebec City and Calgary-Edmonton as possible HSR corridors.

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Megaregions in Europe

- 30 priority axes in the EU TEN-T framework. Most of those are new or upgraded rail links.

Some, like the Oresund bridge/tunnel between Denmark and Sweden are already completed. Others, like the 35 mile Brenner base tunnel between Austria and Italy, have broken ground. Most are still on the drawing board, though. Funding is primarily at the national level, the EU's role is co-ordination of the many separate long-term planning efforts.

I'll elaborate if someone wants me to.

luis d. said...

I think that when Texas and Florida had their HSR going on gas was like 99 cents a gallon and nobody gave a $hit. Airlines could afford to lobby and/or sue to stop it more easily. Now in 2008/09 they (airlines) are feeling the pressure as everyone looks and points the finger at them for raising fares for the slightest thing you bring on board.

Unlike Texas and Florida wich had very little funding, just enough to get by, California has just secured a big chunk on Nov. 4th as Robert pointed out. You can say we have surpassed them in that form. The Planets have aligned (so to speak) at this time for our system. With a new group of people to lead us in 2009, things are looking good for us. Of course we cannot let our guard down untill the first tracks are laid, then perhaps their is no turning back and we can relax a little.

Florida and Texas will be filled in a pool of regret! What if?, as the article says!

Michael Kiesling said...

I think, but correct me if I'm wrong, that the Florida project relied on annual funding to be approved by the legislature. We have a dedicated source of funding now, with the passage of the bonds.

Rafael said...

@ michael kiesling -

AB3034 requires CHSRA to request the appropriation of the required fraction of prop 1A bonds by the state legislature as part of the annual budget process.

The idea is to hold CHSRA accountable for project-level planning and securing matching funds from Congress and/or the private sector. In practice, the California state budget process is so badly broken that it could easily throw a spanner in the works at any time - see my first comment on this thread.

Ben said...

I agree with doing away with the 2/3 budget requirement, unfortunately i don't see it as ever happening. No group (in this case republicans) are going to voluntarily give up their power.

Matt in SF said...

Posted this in the Transbay Terminal thread from last week, but since most folks are unlikely to read back that far and may be interested in the article, here's a cross-post:

More DTX news courtesy of the Chronicle's Matier & Ross. (Scroll down to the section titled "Derailed.") No real news there except for the bit about friction between Kopp and the TJPA Director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, and the fact that the TJPA plans to apply to the CHSRA and qualify for funding, regardless of how Kopp feels about it.

They do bring up the point that Prop 1a explicitly mentioned that the HSR would connect to the new TTC in downtown SF. It's funny how Quentin Kopp waited until after the bond measure had passed (with overwhelming support from SF voters) before clarifying that he doesn't plan to pay for anything of the sort.

BTW - I attended a brown bag presentation on Prop 1a at SPUR a few weeks before the election and CHSRA Board Member Rod Diridon specifically mentioned that there was "a billion dollars" in the CHSRA budget for the DTX. His exact phrasing made it sounds like it was all for the DTX, but he could also have meant for things "such as" the DTX and meant that all of these various enhancement would have to share the billion dollars. He did not give any further detail and there wasn't much time alloted for Q & A, so it's hard to know what exactly he meant, but it's clear that he either disagrees with Kopp on this particular point, or that they are guilty of glossing over the specific details of how much money is going to be available to each community and where the hard decisions will need to be made. I was heartened to hear that they were planning to help pay for the DTX, but I can also understand that something like the DTX may be the first thing dropped if the money gets tight and they have to come up with a way to reduce scope.

Again, Kopp knows how to play hardball and this will be fun to watch play out over the next few years. Everyone wants to get the DTX built, but no one wants to pay for it, or have to pay more than is absolutely necessary. SF is building the TTC and partially funding the DTX and wants major help from CHSRA bonds as well as shares of ticket revenues from HSR and Caltrain to help pay off construction loans. CHSRA would love to use the TTC but consider it a non-necessity and not something they are mandated to build or pay for (at least that's Kopp's public position). I would imagine that when it comes time to fund the grade separations, they will have a similar hard line for how those will be paid. (Obviously grade separations are a requirement to run HSR, but that doesn't mean they will agree to pay for anything more than the bare minimum, which could in some cases be a couple of bucks for a few "road closed" signs.)

According to the the TTC Phase 2 (a.k.a DTX project) baseline budget, they need to close the funding gap by the end of 2009 or early 2010 in order to not incur delays and further cost escalations. That document also explains why the cost estimate for the DTX has ballooned to 3 billion, and describes the potential revenue sources they are looking at*. Their estimate for potential revenues coming directly from the CHSRA is only $450-$600 million - at most 20% of the DTX costs and a mere 10-14% of the entire TTC project budget of $4.2 billion.

*One more thing to note: that baseline budget is dated from early 2008 and since then there have been a few changes, so the amount of phase 2 funding already identified has unfortunatelty dropped from 1 billion to ~$650 million in the intervening period for a variety of reasons.

Rafael said...

@ ben -

as prop 8 showed, the irony of ironies is that amending the California constitution currently only requires a simple majority of voters, whereas the budget requires approval by 2/3 of both houses to pass.

Ergo, the amendment proposition should contain two clauses to prevent future backsliding:

1.1 The state budget must be balanced and approved by simply majorities in both the state assembly and the state senate before it can be submitted to the Governor.
1.2 The Governor may exercise a veto by refusing to sign the budget bill.
1.3 A veto by the governor can be overridden by a 2/3 majority in both houses.

2. The provisions described in clause 1 can only be modified by a 2/3 majority of both houses or, a 2/3 majority of voters in a ballot proposition to amend it.

@ matt in SF -

two points:

a) the labor and construction cost escalations may no longer apply no that the global economy has tanked and energy prices have gone down sharply. Materials like steel and cement are very energy-intensive to produce.

Ergo, now would be a good time to negotiate the construction estimates back down again to make the DTX (and other infrastructure projects) more affordable.

b) the document you referred to does not break out the cost of tunnel construction vs. the train box at the TTC.

The doc mentions an underground station at 4th & King which is not needed for HSR and probably not essential for Caltrain, either.

The doc indicates three tracks in the tunnel. Two ought to be plenty, the train box only has six platforms to begin with. If push came to shove, I bet even a single track tunnel would be workable, since it's only 1.3 miles long.

Finally, the doc mentions that the tunnel will be deeper than initially planned because the buildings it must pass under at 2nd & Townsend and 2nd & Natoma/Minna may have been retrofitted with deep anchors after the last earthquake.

It seems to me that no-one has ever considered the alternative of running the DTX tracks along King/Embarcadero next to the light rail tracks before turning left at Main Street to reach the TTC from the far side.

The big advantage would be that there are no buildings along that alignment, so the whole thing could be constructed using cut-and-cover methods, which are substantially cheaper. Embarcadero/King would be limited to one lane each way for a while and residents of Main Street would also be inconvenienced, but that's life in a down economy.

I'm not familiar with the details of the train box design, but perhaps some costs could be eliminated there as well.

TJPA needs to get a handle on estimated costs before it demands a contribution from CHSRA. It had not set that expectation prior to Nov 4 because it was by no means certain that prop 1A would pass. Consequently, CHSRA had not included any such contribution in its own budgeting, so it is now forced to avoid project bloat. Allowing that would make getting federal and especially, private matching funds for HSR much harder.

Robert Cruickshank said...

It is *highly* likely that a proposal to eliminate the 2/3 requirement will be on a spring special election ballot. We will need to be active in support of it for the reasons rafael described.

I did see that Matier and Ross article that matt in sf mentioned. I thought about writing on the topic today, and may still do so tomorrow. The key thing to keep in mind is that the CHSRA board voted *unanimously* in July - Kopp included - to make the TTC the preferred SF terminus.

Kopp is playing hardball, but in this case it's causing more problems than it's solving, as he's giving the wrong impression about the Authority's commitment to the DTX.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

"preferred" is the key word here. CHSRA never committed to investing a dime in the TTC, nor did TJPA set that expectation prior to Nov 4 - at least not with the general public. Perhaps it was cheeky of CHSRA to believe it would get four platforms underneath the TTC at no charge, but it's inappropriate for TJPA to pull a Dick Turpin now that prop 1A has passed.

However, I do agree that Kopp could have chosen his words more carefully to explain why he is now having to say "no" to the TJPA, especially given that they are making no attempt to reduce the cost of the DTX in the wake of the financial collapse.

Voters in San Francisco and elsewhere deserve to see TJPA and CHSRA working toward a solution rather than slinging mud at each other in public.

Spokker said...

How was your trip to Southern California, Robert? Ride any trains down here?

Robert Cruickshank said...

I didn't ride any trains on the weekend trip, spokker, but I will do so later this week. I'm taking the Coast Starlight and the Pacific Surfliner down to Santa Ana on Wednesday, will be using Metrolink and Metro Rail on Thursday to get to and around LA, and then the Surfliner and CS back to Salinas on Friday.

If I had more time I might take an extended tour of the Metro Rail system. I've only used the Red Line - never been on any of the MTA's light rail systems. But that'll have to come on another trip.

nikko pigman said...

Well being from Florida, I can testify that was a whole lot more behind the defeat of the FLHSR project than you might think.

The governor and HSR opponents took several procedures that could easily be considered unethical and even flirted with illegal. On top of that, the Florida GOP, Governor Jeb Bush, oil companies, air lines, highway construction companies, and CSX railroad (the freight railroad in Florida) banned together to create an anti-HSR alliance of unprecedented campaigning and anti-HSR propaganda spending. On top of that, the way the ballot was worded, many voters were confused: "yes" was supposed to repeal the amendment while "no" was supposed to keep it. This confused many voters and that always leads to the defeat of a measure. Additionally, the wording of the ballot was such that the benefits of repealing the amendment were almost complete lies and -- at least as far as I can remember -- there wasn't even an argument against the repeal on the ballot.

Luckily, the kind of forces that were behind of the defeat of that project are not present in California, and if they are, they are not nearly as influential. I would be more concerned about bottling up lies that parties such as the Reason Foundation are trying to spread.

Spokker said...

I don't know if you want to meet transit weirdos from the Internet, but maybe we Southern California HSR supporters can meet up sometime and hang out, talk HSR, and ride the rails. I would be free this Thursday.

Brandon in San Diego? Anyone else?

Just a thought.

Matt in SF said...

@ Rafael. It doesn't seem to be too big of a dust up between the TJPA and the CHSRA yet. I think both sides are just stating their positions, perhaps a little too publicly, but not throwing mud.

As far as being a surprise, or a late request, the budget that I linked earlier is part of the TJPA adopted policy that was approved in January, so it's been public for the last 10 months. It's not a surprise to any of the players. Kopp's recent comments might have been a little bit of a surprise, but I think he is just giving himself a lot of bargaining room from which to start off.

I haven't seen a breakdown for the CHSR project costs so I don't know whether or not they have planned to help pay for DTX, but it's not like they have never heard of it. And I don't think that the CHSRA has published their guidelines for how to apply for funding or what the specific criteria will be, so it's way too early in the game to say that it's too late to be included in the overall project. We're still in the early stages of putting it all together, so there almost certainly be many years of discussion and changing plans before everything is sorted out and funded.

As far as ways to reduce the cost of the DTX project, I think TJPA staff are continuing to revise their projections, and besides, none of this stuff has gone out to bid yet, so savings may yet be realized down the road. I think I read that they are currently studying adding a loop to the tunnel, presumably allowing trains to circle back without reversing direction, so some of the basic project details are still being evaluated. Those details will probably be determined now and over the next year or two.

BTW - One other thing that I noticed recently that may be of interest to folks generally, Steve Heminger, the longtime head of the MTC (the SF Bay Area's public transportation governing body that establishes funding priorities on a regional level), is perhaps being looked at to be the Obama Secretary of Transportation (scroll down to the section titled "On the move?"). If that were to happen, might it bode well for the prospects of strong federal support for some of these projects that he is so familiar with and has essentially been promoting in his role on the MTC? Although I don't follow the inside baseball of MTC politics, if I'm not mistaken, he is known for being a supporter of some of the bigger-ticket transportation projects like extending BART. If he were to get the job, which may be a long-shot of course, it doesn't seem like it would hurt prospects for HSR or DTX by any means.

Matt Spencer said...

One more thing. Speaking of BART, I noticed just now that Measure B, the 1/8 cent sales tax for Santa Clara county to help fund BART to San Jose, is now passing with exactly 66.67% of the vote, believe it or not. Whatever outstanding ballots have been trickling in have been consistently trending in favor of the tax since election day, and just today the numbers pushed it over the top.

Weird, huh?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that CHSRA sans R spells CASH?

YES on1A said...

And our prop1A is now at 6,007,883
yes votes!! and it largest lead ever at 517,054...anno one of our old "denier" friends visiting? See our numbers above?

Anonymous said...

Matt: the weird part is if you do the math. Yes vote right now is at 66.6679741% Out of 611,886 there are 8 more yes votes than exactly 2/3rds.

-Peter

Rafael said...

So is the measure B vote tally complete or are they still counting? Given how ridiculously close it is right now, will there be a recount?

jon said...

the bush's are good at f-ing things up.

Anonymous said...

This is why I'm trying to remove all bushes from my lawn.