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We have been keeping track of California’s so-called high-speed rail project, backed by governor Jerry Brown and facing huge problems. As in Blazing Saddles, one thing stands in the way of the land they need: the rightful owners. The farmers, in particular, are not eager to sell. The project will supposedly cost $68 billion, already more than double the $33 billion estimate before California voters approved $9.95 billion in bonds seven years ago. The mountains north of Los Angeles will require 36 miles of tunnels, by expert accounts the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history. Facing such formidable obstacles, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee shows how the rail bosses are “switching tracks again.”
As he notes, a “revised version” of the route will now seek to connect the San Joaquin Valley with the San Francisco Bay Area, instead of Los Angeles. Voters of all kinds disfavor the project, the veteran columnist observes, but “conceptual support appears to be stronger in the Bay Area.” The financing will supposed come from bond money, federal aid and the cap-and-trade fees on emissions. Those fees, Walters notes, “still face a legal challenge from business groups that they are taxes and therefore must be approved by a two-thirds legislative vote.” And this puts the Brown administration “in the awkward position of arguing in court that the fees are not meant to raise revenues while counting on them to finance a multibillion-dollar project.” Even the bond money, Walters warns, is not a sure thing. Lawsuits contend it violates several conditions of the original measure.
Polls show public support for high-speed rail “dwindling steadily” as the costs have grown by “tens of billions of dollars over what the bond measure projected and as other public works deficiencies have become more evident.” Taxpayers have good reason to support of Walters’ conclusion:
“Fundamentally, it makes no sense to spend so much money, whatever its source, on a project for which there is little or no demonstrated need, while our roadway system deteriorates for lack of maintenance and while drought underscores the abject neglect of our water supply.”