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Building California’s Stonehenge

Thursday February 1st, 2018   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:09am PST   •  

Construction of California High Speed Rail Viaduct in Fresno The ongoing saga of cost overruns, waste and bureaucratic mismanagement related to the building of California’s bullet train project/boondoggle has provided a continuous stream of source material for us here at MyGovCost for many years.

But in terms of describing the likely legacy of California’s high speed rail, both Lloyd Billingsley and I would have a tough time topping Victor Davis Hanson’s recent description of the project as “California’s Stonehenge.”

Nobody quite knows who built Stonehenge some 5,000 years ago in southern England. The mysterious ring of huge stone monoliths stands mute.

Californians may leave behind similarly enigmatic monuments for puzzled future generations. Along a 119-mile pathway in central California from Bakersfield to Madera, there are now huge, quarter-finished cement overpasses. These are the totems of the initial segment of a planned high-speed-rail corridor.

Californians thought high-speed rail was a great idea when they voted for it in 2008. The state is overwhelmingly progressive. Silicon Valley reflects California’s confidence in new-age technology. Californians are among the highest-taxed citizens in the nation. They apparently are not opposed to borrowing and spending for ambitious government projects — especially to alleviate crowded freeways.

Planners assured voters that the cost for the first 520 miles was going to be an “affordable” $33 billion. The rail line seemed a good way to connect the state’s economically depressed interior with the affluent coastal corridor.

The segment from Madera to Bakersfield was thought to be the easiest to build. Rural land was cheaper to acquire in the interior of California. The route was flat, without the need to bore tunnels. The valley is considered seismically stable. Economically depressed counties welcomed the state and federal investment dollars.

But projected costs have soared even before one foot of track has been laid. The entire project’s estimated costs, according to various projections, may have nearly doubled. The current cost for the easiest first segment alone has spiraled from a promised $7.8 billion in 2016 to an estimated $10.6. There is no assurance that enough Central Valley riders will wish to use the line.

26608555 - stonehenge : one of the wonders of the world The fiscal viability of California’s high speed rail project really goes downhill from there, because it has to compete with other goals of the state’s politicians, such as paying pensions to state government employees, implementing a single-payer health care system for state residents, and repairing deteriorating highways and schools, to name just a few, all of which require massive sums of money that the state doesn’t have and is unlikely to ever obtain.

At some point, Californians will demand that the boondoggle that is the California bullet train come to an end. When it does, Hansen anticipates that all the state will have to show for its billions of dollars spent for high speed trains that will never arrive at their destination will be the concrete monoliths it is building today.

Hopefully, the ancient builders of Britain’s Stonehenge got a better return on their investment. And also more use out of it.

Featured Image:
California High Speed Rail Authority

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February 2018