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California’s vaunted bullet train has yet to carry a single passenger but it has managed to make the news. As it turns out, the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority offered a contract extension of $3 million on a noncompetitive basis. In other words, it was a no-bid sweetheart deal. That emerged in a new report from California’s state auditor Elaine Howle, who finds that the state’s General Services and Technology departments “did not provide adequate oversight of the billions of dollars state agencies awarded through noncompetitive contracts from fiscal years 2011–12 through 2015–16.” The 27 noncompetitive deals the auditor reviewed “could have been avoided if the agencies had engaged in sufficient planning.” Likewise, “both General Services and Technology have enforcement mechanisms, they rarely employed them, allowing agencies to continue inappropriately using noncompetitive requests.” Taxpayers should not be surprised that the vaunted “bullet-train” is on this track.
As we noted, it was pitched as a swift route from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, but construction began way out by Fresno, not exactly on the route. The land the rail project needs remains 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. Other parts would require the most elaborate tunneling project in U.S. history, certain to incur massive cost overruns.
Few Californians are panting for an essentially 19th century form of transportation that was 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 managed to establish, count ‘em, four offices, a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices. Commuters can’t ride those, but 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 governor Gray Davis. As we noted, a convicted embezzler also found work with the rail authority, so criminals are also all aboard.
Taxpayers should not be surprised that this bloated, useless outfit should hand out $3 million in a no-bid deal to favored insiders. And according to High-Speed Rail’s new business plan, the total cost for the project will now be $98 billion.