Jerry Brown+High Speed Rail

By Steven Greenhut | Oct. 30, 2015 – 2:53 p.m.

  • Concealed report: Overruns, delays plague high-speed rail

Sacramento — One of the biggest problems with Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to battle climate change is the “do or die” nature of the situation. Based on his rhetoric, there’s little room for debate over costs, benefits, details and oversight. When the future of the Earth is at stake, then nothing else seems to matter. A new brouhaha over one of Brown’s signature anti-climate-change projects illustrates this situation.

I’m referring to the construction of a $68-billion (for now) high-speed rail system that connects Los Angeles with San Francisco, in a promised 2 hours and 40 minutes (but don’t count on it). It’s supposed to slow climate change by creating an alternative to driving up and down the state in cars. An investigative report last week suggests state officials have concealed from the public information about likely cost overruns and delays.

The idea has long generated controversy, but in 2008 voters approved, with nearly 53 percent of the vote, Proposition 1A, which authorized nearly $10 billion in bonds to begin the construction of such a rail line. Early cost estimates soared to at least $98.5 billion, but were scaled back to $68 billion after the newly created rail authority changed some significant aspects of the project. As years go by, the project barely resembles the one promised to voters.

For instance, instead of speeding from LA to the Bay Area, the train would share track with commuter trains in those heavily urbanized areas. That cut back on costs, but slowed the travel times. Even one of its key authors, former Sen. Quentin Kopp, disavowed the project given that it no longer resembled the original proposal.

The Brown administration trudged forward, even after a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled against the project because it lacked sufficient funding streams to get started. Proposition 1A was tightly written, filled with detailed promises designed to woo voters. It promised certain costs, travel times, prevented the use of operating subsidies and forbade the rail authority from spending authorized bond dollars until it detailed funding for the initial segment.

Ultimately, the judge’s attempt to force the Brown administration to, in part, live up to the initiative’s promises was overturned by an appeals court. The state Supreme Court chose not to review that decision – and it’s been full-speed ahead since.

But there’s no getting around the project’s contradictions and overly optimistic promises. That Los Angeles Times investigative report confirms not only ongoing schedule and cost problems, but the degree to which the state has taken a secretive approach to the project. Who cares about a few billion dollars, years of delay and open records when the Earth’s future is at stake?

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