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In his State of the State address, California governor Jerry Brown went off on President Trump with unusual fury, but he also extended an olive branch of sorts. California has “roads, tunnels and railroads” that the president “could help us with,” Brown said, and that will “create good-paying American jobs.” Before he gets on board the president should take a hard look at this railroad the governor is touting.
It was pitched as a swift route from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, but construction began way out by Fresno. The land the rail project needs is still in the hands of the rightful owners, and the first 118 miles could cost $3.6 billion more than expected. The Federal Railroad Administration has already forked over grants of $3.5 billion for that very segment, supposedly the easiest to build. Other parts would require the most elaborate tunneling project in U.S. history, certain to incur massive cost overruns.
Few California commuters were panting for a 19th-century form of transportation both slower and more expensive than air travel. California’s high-speed rail project is best viewed as a bait-and-switch ploy to get state voters to finance local transit projects they otherwise would not support. The state’s High Speed Rail Authority has no experience building anything but has established a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices. The Authority works well as a comfy sinecure for ruling-class retreads like board member Lynn Schenk, a former congresswoman and chief of staff for former governor Gray Davis. As we noted, a convicted embezzler also found work with the rail authority, so criminals are also all aboard.
President Trump and Congress should weigh all that before loading any taxpayer dollars on the bullet train. The president should also take a hard look at the massive tunnels the governor wants to dig under the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, at a cost of $15 billion, certain to be higher. As for “good-paying American jobs,” the president should note that California chose to use cheap Chinese steel on the new span of the Bay Bridge, which still came in $5 billion over budget, ten years late, and remains riddled with safety issues. Despite a whistleblower’s call for a criminal investigation, nobody was held accountable for any of it.