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As we have noted, governor Jerry Brown wants to drill two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The total cost of his Delta conservation plan is $25 billion, but based on projects such as Boston’s “Big Dig,” and a highway tunnel project in Seattle, the cost would be much higher. A coalition of farmers, environmentalists and recreational anglers oppose the Delta project, but as David Siders and Dale Kasler note in the Sacramento Bee, the governor is now calling the tunnels a “fundamental necessity.”
“If we don’t have the project, the Delta will fail, the water will not be available and California will suffer devastating economic consequences,” Brown told reporters, calling the tunnels “a fundamental necessity of California’s current and future prosperity.” Brown said “we’ll get it done” but, as the reporters note, agencies in the southern part of the state might not be eager to pay up. Taxpayers might note that Brown’s other pet project, the vaunted bullet train, also has a case of tunnel vision.
The bullet train will require 36 miles of tunnels through mountains north of Los Angeles, an area that includes the boundary between tectonic plates and unmapped earthquake faults. This would be the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history, and according to expert Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, the probability of a major cost overrun is 80-90 percent. At $68 billion the budget is already more than double the original estimate of $33 billion.
The California high-speed rail project is not a fundamental necessity and neither are the governor’s beloved tunnels. Taxpayers might recall that the new span of the Bay Bridge racked up cost overruns of $5 billion, came in 10 years late, and remains troubled by safety issues. As California congressman Mark DeSaulnier lamented, “it’s frustrating that there’s never been anyone in the management of the bridge who has been held accountable.”