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Two years ago, as we noted, California’s high-speed rail project was facing 36 miles of tunnels through the mountains north of Los Angeles, a tectonically complex area abounding in earthquake faults. As independent experts observed, these tunnels would have been the most ambitious tunneling project in U.S. history, with 90% odds of massive cost overruns. Bullet train bosses claimed they had not yet picked the exact route through the mountains, and the project was behind schedule on land acquisition, financing, permit approvals, and still facing multiple lawsuits. None of that diminished the rail bosses’ tunnel vision.
As Ralph Vartabedian reports in the Los Angeles Times, according to current plans, “a crucial part of the journey will be a 13.5-mile tunnel beneath the winding peaks and valleys of Pacheco Pass,” which will be “the nation’s longest and most advanced transportation tunnel.” Trouble is, the best tunnel experts peg the cost at “anywhere from $5.6 billion to $14.4 billion,” and the route “also requires a 1.5-mile tunnel just east of Gilroy, itself a major infrastructure project.” As UC Berkeley civil engineer William Ibbs told Vartabedian, “This is not good news for taxpayers of California.” That also applies to the entire project.
As California’s state auditor has noted, the rail project has been handing out sweetheart no-bid contracts. The rail “Authority,” has no building experience but has already established four offices, a Sacramento headquarters and three regional offices. The bureaucratic structure provides a soft ride for ruling-class retreads such as Lynn Schenk, former congresswoman and chief of staff for governor Gray Davis. The project also runs roughshod over property rights. As Hedley Lamarr said in Blazing Saddles, one thing stands between the rail authority and the land they want: “the rightful owners.”
Last year Lawrence McQuillan gave the bullet train the Golden Fleece Award for the government program “guilty of egregiously fleecing taxpayers.” And this is all before a single rider ever stepped aboard. If it ever was built, the $98 billion rail project would still be slower and more expensive than air travel. On the other hand, the bullet train is not really about transportation.
It’s a hereditary project for governor Jerry Brown and a great way for government to spend money without providing value for taxpayers. As High-Speed Rail Authority, chief engineer Scott Jarvis explained about the $14.4 billion Pacheco Pass tunnel: “We don’t see any problem.”