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Laying Track for More Spending

Monday August 11th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 7:18am PDT   •  

BayBridgeDemo_200We have been tracking the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which came in 10 years late and $5 billion over budget but still bristled with safety concerns. Those worries were serious enough to prompt state senator Mark DeSaulnier to hold hearings and threaten a criminal investigation. Calls for a criminal investigation actually originated with Caltrans geologist Michael Morgan, but the senator followed up with an “administrative review” by the California Highway Patrol. The CHP was to see if Caltrans had retaliated against whistleblowers and violated rules on public disclosure. But after six months of investigation, nothing emerged from the CHP in an August 5 hearing in Sacramento.

Caltrans bosses and their apologists defended the bridge as safe and denigrated whistleblowers as “disgruntled” employees. In the public comment section, the only speaker was Patrick Lowry of Alta Vista Solutions, which handled oversight on the bridge. Lowry said “the bridge is safe,” there was “no debate about quality” and “no intent to silence critics.” Therefore, “Let’s not denigrate the team that gave the people of California something extraordinary they will enjoy for generations.”

That takeaway line raised no objection from DeSaulnier, who is running for Congress. He agreed that the bridge is safe and gave clear indication that accountability and safety are not his only concerns. He lamented “disaffected citizens who don’t believe in government,” an echo of his earlier complaint that problems with the bridge had eroded public confidence and made Californians “adverse to taxes” needed for other infrastructure projects.

The senator mentioned high-speed rail, which he supports “if it’s done right.” With the same ratio of cost overruns as the Bay Bridge, California’s $68 billion high-speed rail could cost upwards of $272 billion. DeSaulnier also touted a “water project,” doubtless a reference to Governor Jerry Brown’s $25 billion Delta tunnels. With cost overruns in proportion to the Bay Bridge, the tunnels could exceed $100 billion.

So while posing as an advocate of accountability the senator was simply laying track for billions in spending on dubious projects. The ruling class always has a bridge to sell you.

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August 2014