Train in Vain(ity)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he’s ending the state’s effort to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Newsom said Tuesday in his State of the State address it “would cost too much and take too long” to build the line long championed by his predecessor, Jerry Brown. Latest estimates pin the cost at $77 billion and completion in 2033.
Newsom says he wants to continue construction of the high-speed link from Merced to Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley. He says building the line could bring economic transformation to the agricultural region.
And he says abandoning that portion of the project would require the state to return $3.5 billion in federal dollars.
I lived in Merced for about three years in the late nineties, with a girlfriend who lived in Fresno for a portion of that. I can maybe see taking the line down to the ‘No if you can get around easily. There isn’t much to do in Merdead (as it was known) but with the UC having opened there, things are starting to happen a little bit. But I can’t see it driving economic development in any way, shape or form. The local economy is Agriculture and Oil in that area, both of which take a lot of secondary driving; to farms and ranches, to oil fields. One needs a vehicle, not a politicians folly. I foresee even this part coming to naught. And many locals never got on board with the project to begin with, often stating that the money would never show up, and if eminent domain was invoked, the land would be taken by the state and never used or unsightly half built sections would be left.
Patterson, an outspoken opponent of the bullet-train project, said he fears that much of the $68 billion needed to build the rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles will never materialize, leaving an incomplete section of track sitting in the Valley. To date, the state has about $6 billion available for construction in the Valley, including about $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds from the Obama administration. Patterson added that lawsuits also continue to confront the rail agency.
“Eminent domain is absolute and irrevocable,” he said. “If the funds fall short or the litigation succeeds, there is a real possibility that all this property won’t be utilized.”
Like Patterson, Chris Mathys is no fan of California’s contentious high-speed rail project. The former Fresno City Council member and avowed tax-fighter is philosophically opposed to the state spending billions in taxpayer money on a 220 mph passenger train through the state by way of the Valley.
But when the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Public Works Board went to court last fall to take a piece of property he owns on G Street in downtown Fresno, Mathys understood it was just part of the state doing business.
Mathys’ land is one of 50 properties for which the state has filed eminent domain lawsuits in Fresno County Superior Court since last spring. And the pace of those lawsuits is accelerating. Thirty condemnation cases have been filed by the state since March 1, including seven notices of pending legal actions recorded in a single day last week. And that doesn’t count eminent domain lawsuits filed by the state Department of Transportation for its project to relocate Highway 99 between Ashlan and Clinton avenues in west-central Fresno to make way for the high-speed train tracks.
The rail-line might have sounded good at one time; a high-speed trip, blasting from LA in the south to SF in the north, with maybe a stop in Fresno. But as time ran on it hit many snag’s:
California’s High Speed Rail Authority is still paying for a costly decision five years ago to begin construction in the Central Valley without securing land and before it had completed key plans, according to a report published on Thursday by State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Howle’s office estimated that the rushed construction contributed to $600 million in cost overruns just for segments in the Central Valley. They may require as much as $1.6 billion more.
The auditor wrote that the project’s finances could worsen if it fails to accelerate its progress. It may have to repay as much as $3.5 billion to the federal government if it does not complete its Central Valley legs by 2022.
“The authority’s spending to date and future projections suggest that the risk of such additional cost increases is high,” Howle wrote.
High-speed rail would have been a wonder for California if built in the sixties like Japans famous Shinkansen. But in the 2000s, in a state renowned for its NIMBYism, when the flight time is a third of the rails high-speed, it never really made sense. But the end result is a politician’s vanity project, rushed and ill-conceived, living on borrowed time and another man’s memories.