Editorial: Stopping High-Speed Rail Would Betray California’s Future

25 times over budget, years behind schedule, and yet the project was completed... Oh, wait that was a road project

High-speed rail under construction in South Fresno. Photo: CaHSRA
High-speed rail under construction in South Fresno. Photo: CaHSRA

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It’s the most expensive public works project in the history of California. Years behind schedule, it cost more than 25 times what was originally promised.

I’m talking, of course, of the replacement of the Eastern Span of the Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened in 2013–six years behind schedule, for a whopping $6.5 billion. It was supposed to cost $250 million.

Rightfully, people complained and criticized, yet nobody talked about abandoning a partially built bridge.

Last month, the state auditor released an 87-page report analyzing problems with California’s high-speed rail project, which is already helping to modernize woefully neglected rail infrastructure throughout the state. When completed, it will one day link Northern and Southern California, as well as cities in between, with the kind of modern, high-speed trains that are currently taken for granted in advanced economies throughout the world.

Naturally, petroleum-backed lobbyists, failed politicians, and anti-tax crusaders immediately seized upon the report to call, again, for killing it.

In reality, the audit merely identified everything that is wrong with how large public-works projects are funded in California and the United States. The takeaway should be that we need to reform “environmental” laws that allow NIMBYs to tie up projects in pointless lawsuits, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The state also needs to stop outsourcing management and oversight.

And most of all, we need to return to a political system where two sides debate the merits of a project such as HSR and, if a majority decision is made to move forward, even those on the losing side act like adults and help build it. Or at least stop trying to sabotage it, as Jeff Denham and others in California’s Republican delegation did last year in Washington–despite the fact that HSR is still supported by the majority of the people of California.

Good luck with that last one, I guess.

Let’s be blunt: most opponents of high-speed rail don’t care a lick about “fiscal responsibility,” or, safety, or anything like it–it’s about oil interests, and the politicians and ‘think tanks’ they back, protecting their gold-plated rice bowls. It’s why we never see them sending out press releases about over-budget road projects or pushing referendums to kill the latest fruitless road widening.

Remember that when you’re waiting in airport security lines or stewing in mind-numbing traffic jams this holiday season, deprived of the modern rail choices that are enjoyed everywhere else in the developed world.

In 2019, let’s harness that frustration and work hard to make sure greedy cynics don’t saddle yet another generation of Californians with such a backwards transportation system and all the misery it causes. Let’s push Gavin Newsom and other incoming progressive lawmakers both in Sacramento and in Washington to figure out how to fix and fully fund this project.

Because the state needs to get its funding and project management under control–so it can get back to work bridging all of its cities with fast, modern, non-polluting trains.

Be sure to check out The New York Times in-depth report on the money behind anti-transit measures.

  • Carol

    I think everyone is getting ahead of themselves. What you should be asking is why is the entire environmental review process for this project taking 20 years. I work for one of the main Env Consultants that produces the Environmental Impact Reports for HSRA. I’ve been formatting these HSR EIRs off and on for 15 years. Need I say more!?

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