Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
11/30/2014 12:01 AM

Jerry Brown occasionally suggests that a bullet-train system and twin water tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were born during his first governorship.

The roots of both immense projects are actually further back in history, but their antecedents notwithstanding, Brown wants them as legacies and hopes to begin moving them from concepts to physical reality before ending his final term.

Both the bullet train and the tunnels face daunting political and legal hurdles that must be cleared if Brown is to move some dirt before leaving office. Their major uncertainties, however, remain financial.

The High-Speed Rail Authority has only a fraction of the bullet train’s estimated $68 billion cost in hand and plans to spend much of it to lay a short section of track in the San Joaquin Valley, if legal impediments can be overcome.

Republican control of Congress dooms any hope of additional federal funds, making the project’s future dependent on a big chunk of the state’s “cap-and-trade” greenhouse gas fees.

The Legislature has approved that allocation, and it could, in theory, be used to service a massive construction loan – if the fees themselves survive a legal challenge.

The tunnel project is estimated at $25 billion, about a third of which would be spent on environmental mitigation. The remaining $17 billion (in 2012 dollars) would, project planners assume, come from big agricultural and municipal water agencies south of the Delta, which see the tunnels as improving water supply reliability.

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