Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mary Bono Mack and Darrell Issa Attack Vegas HSR

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

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, who owes her seat to having been married to Sonny Bono when he died, is launching a new criticism of the Vegas HSR project: that it would come at the expense of the Inland Empire. Obviously Mack, like John Boehner before her, is oblivious to the fact that many of her constituents will benefit from Vegas HSR, particularly the construction jobs. But she's concerned about the Indian casinos, like Casino Morongo, that might lose out to Vegas when Californians find it's easier to get to Vegas than ever before via a high speed train:

But Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, said Reid -- a longtime proponent of a Southern California-to-Las Vegas rail line -- stands to gain from the provision at her district's expense. With a fast train in place to take people from Los Angeles to the Vegas Strip, the Inland area would likely lose out on tourist revenue, particularly at the region's Indian casinos, she said....

"He's stifling our economy," Bono Mack said. "We're just going to shuttle people away from the Inland Empire."

So wouldn't one solution to this be to build HSR to Palm Springs? Funny how she doesn't propose that.

As the article notes Mack voted with her party against the stimulus and against the $8 billion in HSR money. Which, it must be noted, will benefit the California High Speed Rail project most of all. A project that many of her constituents will directly benefit from. Look at a map of the 45th district - much of it includes the I-215 corridor, the corridor along which HSR is likely to run on the LA-SD portion of the route.

I guess this is a marginally less ridiculous form of HSR denial, but not by much. The solution here isn't to attack the Vegas HSR project, but to expand mass transit options so that Palm Springs and its casinos are included as well.

And to remind Mack, and everyone else in the Inland Empire, that high speed trains run in two directions.

UPDATE: Thanks to my Calitics co-blogger David Dayen for bringing my attention to this priceless smackdown of Darrell Issa, a Congressman from San Diego, who attacked the "earmark" for Vegas HSR which, as David Shuster points out in the clip, doesn't actually exist:

Worth noting that Issa too represents a district that will benefit from HSR. God, these people are idiots.


BruceMcF said...

So the residents of the Inland Empire should lobby for a branch of the CA-HSR to be added that goes to Pheonix?

At least, I reckon there are no casinos in Phoenix.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Actually there are casinos in Phoenix - several Arizona tribes have casinos in and around the Valley of the Sun.

Mack's whole thing is ridiculous. The right solution is for her constituents to lobby for the Metrolink I-215 project and for improved Amtrak service to the Coachella Valley.

Aaron said...

There are casinos in Phoenix, although not as many in LA :). The Gila River community is essentially on Phoenix's southern boundary (a boundary set by the line with the Indian nation, the city cannot grow any further south at that point).

More seriously, I see no reason we should support the concept of a Vegas maglev train. I'm not necessarily opposed to researching Vegas-LAUS HSR, and LAUS-PHX is an interesting concept since the route is flatter than flat for most of the way (just avoid the White Tank Mountains), but as a part-time Phoenix resident, I'm not sure PHX is an appropriate destination for HSR due to the fact that PHX transit is not well-developed. It's not as bad as people say, but it's close to being where it needs to be, and Valley Metro is about to go through drastic service cuts that makes LA Metro look heavenly - a lot of Phoenix area cities are about to lose ALL Sunday service.

You'd get a lot of PHX people parking their cars at an HSR station, but I doubt there's a huge demand for LA residents to take a train to Phoenix, especially since Sky Harbor is so close to Downtown and Tempe, and honestly Sky Harbor is a very nice and non-stressful airport. It has a huge capacity but is extremely comfortable and well-designed.

Back to Vegas, this crazy maglev idea is the epitome of a gadgetbahn, and running it from Disneyland is silly. Instead of claiming that this crazy idea has merit (it doesn't), we should instead be responding that this crazy idea is not what the HSR funding is going to, that HSR funding is going to projects that are much further along in California and other regions, and that nobody with a brain is talking about "levitating trains."

I don't mean to say that all other projects should be shut out of HSR funding, but there is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, and when everyone believes that the $8b goes towards a "levitating train," then we have a serious messaging problem that should start by explaining where the money actually is going, and then explain that the concept of LAUS-Vegas isn't a bad idea, but that it needs more study and that nobody with a brain is proposing maglev from Disneyland-Vegas.

I've been a long-time defender of Harry Reid, but I've about had it with him. He doesn't speak up for the things he should speak up for (opposing the war, requiring the GOP to actually read the Washington phone book in order to filibuster), and he does speak up for the nonsense that he ought to leave to other people.

spence said...

Mary Bono is the same one who gave the whole "what am I supposed to tell my kids?" speech during the Clinton impeachment trial. Good to see that she can still pontificate with the best of them.

Anonymous said...

"not sure PHX is an appropriate destination for HSR due to the fact that PHX transit is not well-developed"

"Valley Metro is about to go through drastic service cuts that makes LA Metro look heavenly - a lot of Phoenix area cities are about to lose ALL Sunday service.

You'd get a lot of PHX people parking their cars at an HSR station"

HuH?! These are arguable points against HSR in a particular area? Since when?

Aaron said...

Well, because, and someone is welcome to prove me wrong here, but because HSR works best when you have a local transportation network to integrate into, which Phoenix unfortunately lacks. When I'm in town, Valley Metro gives me a pretty enormous amount of frustration - it's not a bad agency per se, they just don't have the ability to provide the level of service the city needs, and Sky Harbor is one of the most convenient airports in the country. The argument of "You don't have to deal with the living hell that is LAX" isn't going to take here, and Phoenix's few attempts at transit-oriented development have been pretty disappointing. I don't see it in Phoenix, not yet. Wait a few years to see if they can get their funding situation nailed down and further expand, otherwise the service would probably only serve PHX residents going to California, not the other direction, and I'm not convinced that's a viable service. Southwest just has the PHX - LAX/BUR/SNA and PHX-OAK market completely nailed down right now.

Trust me, I'd love it so that my trips here got easier, but... yikes. Seems risky.

Alon Levy said...

Aaron, Phoenix has bad transit infrastructure, but so did Lyon. In fact, Phoenix's light rail system is longer than the Lyon Metro (but less used); when the TGV opened, the Lyon Metro was half as long as the Phoenix light rail system is today, and Lyon had no light rail. By the time any HSR to Phoenix will open, it's likely Phoenix will have decent light rail and commuter rail networks.

Although Sky Harbor is close to downtown, it represents only a modest reduction in the air penalty, most of which comes from check-in time, security, and baggage claim. Normally, the air penalty is about an hour and a half; even if we reduce it to 1:10 for trips involving Phoenix, HSR will still be competitive. Flight time from LA to Phoenix is about 1:20; HSR should take 2:00, as is projected for LA-Stockton, which is about the same distance as LA-Phoenix. With a time penalty of 40 minutes, even if we reduce the air penalty to 1:10, HSR typically has 80-90% of the air/rail market share.

calwatch said...

The real issue I have is the incompatible technology. HSR would be perfect as a spur from Theachapi over to Barstow and northeast to Las Vegas. But tunneling through the Cajon Pass just to put another rail line just seems like a duplication of effort.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Folks are making some good points here as usual. I would just say that these idiots are actually criticizing HSR as a whole by picking on Vegas HSR as a concept. I fully agree that maglev should not be used and that a spur off our HSR line is best. But I would be surprised if Mack or Issa understood either point.

HSR to Phoenix is of even less value than HSR to Vegas - at this time. I want HSR from sea to shining sea but as a starter we should focus on the highest priority routes. Let's restore Amtrak to PHX first.

Aaron said...

Agreed - Phoenix sadly tore down our station, and now I have to take the train to the City of Maricopa (which is not close to Phoenix, but my family lives in Ahwatukee so it's at least not horrible). But for people going to downtown Phoenix, or the North PHX/Biltmore area, or worse yet Scottsdale, Maricopa is like taking a train to San Francisco and getting off in, well, San José. Except there's no transit at all between Maricopa and Phoenix. Not even an Amtrak bus, and Valley Metro doesn't make 3x-a-week milk runs to Maricopa. Anyone going to Maricopa is either being picked up or lives in PHX and parked their car at the "station."

I'd rather see what happens if Amtrak restored daytime service to City of Phoenix - right now the only departures and arrivals at Maricopa and Tucson are in the middle of the night, between roughly 11:30pm and 4am depending on the time change, but I don't know enough about the rail lines through here to know how realistic that is. I know that they're looking to expand the LRT system, but commuter rail is not on anyone's radar right now, and I have no clue if it's a ROW issue or a funding/lack of demand issue. GIven how bad traffic is here, especially over in the West Valley, I can't imagine it's a lack of demand issue.

Ironically, about the only thing Maricopa City is convenient to are the Phoenix casinos ;p.

At any rate, sorry for hijacking your blog and turning it into MetroRiderPHX :). Moving right along...

Anonymous said...

I've been watching these republican house members, not the senate, but the house, and I'm telling you not only are they ideologues, but they are dumb as a box of rocks. How on god's green earth do people like this get elected? O mean yes I get it when they get elected in Alabama, but in California? The republicans are pissed and they are desperate. They are going to lie through their teeth and spread as much misinformation as they can every chance they get, through every medium to which they have access in hopes that some of it will stick. It's come to the point now where its not a matter of differing policy, so much as they are pure evil.. They are liars. They are thieves and they have no interest in helping the american people. As for Vegas, there is only one simple solution that makes economical common sense. It is the simplest solution and therefor it is the correct solution and that is to tie in a branch line AFTER cali finishes its HSR, tie in a branch line that is as easily accessable from norcal and socal ( mojave) and use the same tech and be done with it. Anything other than that constitutes politics and waste.

無名 - wu ming said...

At least, I reckon there are no casinos in Phoenix.

apart from the real estate market?

Rafael said...

It still amazes me that the Republican base appears to accept any assertion made by GOP politicians as gospel as long as it's made often enough. Sheeple, indeed.

The stimulus bill allocates $8 billion to HSR projects in the 11 officially designated corridors. Las Vegas is currently not on any of them. The money was not snuck in at the last moment. Instead, funds already in the separate versions passed by the House and Senate "at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation" were allocated explicitly to HSR, along with some other shuffling. And all Harry Reid really did was relay a request by the President who wanted to eliminated the perception of a slush fund for transportation infrastructure.

Someone in the Senate majority leader's office then stated that a big chunk of that money might be spent on linking Las Vegas to Southern California via high speed rail. In other words, they explicitly admitted that the decision would be made by the Administration, not Congress. Wishful thinking is not at all the same thing as an earmark. The GOP has not yet woken up to the fact that some appropriations power has de facto shifted to the executive branch, precisely because the Presidents wants to drain the earmark swamp left behind by Republicans.

Rep. Boehner prided himself on not having read the 1100-page text of the stimulus bill prior to the House vote on it. Obviously, Rep. Issa still hasn't read it.

At this point, the only realistic way that HSR to Las Vegas could possibly benefit from federal dollars - not just those in the stimulus bill - is to add it as a destination on the California HSR network, via a spur off either Mojave or Colton. Changes in corridor definitions are possible but not willy-nilly. The existing map is the result of explicit authorizations in bills passed by Congress, so Las Vegas would have to clear a fairly high hurdle.

Any spur off the California network would automatically mean electrified steel wheels technology. There point blank isn't any ROW for running the tracks of two incompatible technologies through the inland empire. For example, the hwy 57 median that maglev had intended to use to reach Anaheim is no longer available.

If Harry Reid wants to stick with maglev because it's supposedly more compatible with Vegas glitz then it's never going to go any further than Primm on the CA-NV border, providing a fast connection to the planned relief airport in the Ivanpah Valley - an island solution much like the only existing commercial maglev route in Shanghai. Perhaps one day the citizens of Nevada will wake up realize that sticking with maglev would mean shooting themselves in the foot twice over, since about a third of flights into McCurran is from CA cities with or close to stations on the proposed HSR network.

As for Indian gaming interests in the Palm Springs area, the best protection for now would be to specify that any HSR spur to Las Vegas would branch off in Mojave with no stop in Barstow. Note that Las Vegas' success depends less than it used to on gambling these days. Conventions and non-gambling forms of entertainment also draw in significant crowds. The Palm Springs area is simply not competitive in these sectors.

Finally, there could be an understanding that a second connector via Victorville would not be built until after at least rapid rail service out to Indio was available. Note that all of this would anyhow be part of a new phase III for the California HSR project, unlikely to happen before the 2030s.

In both cases, there would be value in co-locating new transmission lines near the tracks to bring solar thermal and wind power from the high desert to the population centers on the coast.

Brandon in California said...

What I enjoy about Adobe Acrobat is the ability to do word searches. An 1100-page pdf document can be scanned in less than an hour for subject matter of interest. In some cases, a few minutes.

Short of not having the document/file at all, there is zero excuse for GOP members, or their aides, to not have reviewed the document and determined for themselves that Las Vegas HSR is not in the bill.

Sadly, this mis-interpretation can only be construed as intent to cloud the stimulus bill and taint the Obama administration and democrats at large.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

in case you haven't noticed, Phoenix is a casino of the real estate variety.

BruceMcF said...

OK, OK, (Robert, wu ming, Rafael), there are no casino's IN Phoenix ... rather, Phoenix itself is a real estate casino, and several Indian casinos border on Phoenix.

So much for a failed attempt at a witty aside.

I'm still stand by the main position ... residents of the Inland Empire should lobby for a branch of the CA-HSR that goes to Phoenix via the Inland Empire.

*Of course* they will find that they have to get in the queue a ways back, but the sooner they start lobbying for it, the better.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

folks in the Inland Empire are essentially set in the sense that the spur to San Diego is supposed to run through their area. They don't need to lobby for a spur out to Indio, never mind Phoenix. It is those regions and cities that need to do the lobbying if they want HSR.

Any such spur would probably be predicated on a long-term plan for aggressive high-density transit-oriented development in Blythe on the CA-AZ border. The state should seek to direct its population growth toward places that have access to water, e.g. the Colorado river.

Much the same applies to the Delta counties (Merced to Sacramento), which are already on the phase II agenda for HSR. The effort of pumping water to Southern California already consumes 2% of all of the electricity generated in or imported into California, roughly twice as much as the fully built-out HSR network will consume if and when it reaches capacity.