Don’t Derail the Bullet Train Derailment

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustEven before California’s High Speed Rail bond proposal appeared on the ballot in November 2008, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association commissioned a study in conjunction with the Reason Foundation because of deep concerns about the project’s viability. The study, published in September 2008, just prior to the election, confirmed our worst fears. Specifically, the executive summary of the nearly 200-page document warned:

“The CHSRA plans as currently proposed are likely to have very little relationship to what would eventually be built due to questionable ridership projections and cost assumptions, overly optimistic projections of ridership diversion from other modes of transport, insufficient attention to potential speed restrictions and safety issues and discounting of potential community or political opposition. Further, the system’s environmental benefits have been grossly exaggerated, especially with respect to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that have been associated with climate change.”

In the ensuing decade, it became increasingly clear that every negative prediction about the project came to be realized. Even initial advocates of the project, including a former chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, turned against the costly boondoggle.

The capstone of criticism came at the end of 2018 when California’s own state auditor issued a scathing report excoriating the project’s mismanagement, waste and lack of transparency. To understand just how damning the HSR audit was, just consider the subtitle: “Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

Is Gavin Newsom California’s Denier-in-Chief?

Gavin NewsomCalifornia’s newly elected governor, Gavin Newsom, gave his first “state of the state” address on February 12, and it was a speech more noteworthy for what he didn’t than for what he did mention. Were Newsom’s sins of omission the conscious choice of a seasoned politician, or is he in denial, like so many of his California leftist cohorts?

Before criticizing the content, and the omissions, of Newsom’s speech, it’s necessary to make something clear: Nobody can deny California’s accomplishments; its great universities; its vibrant, diverse industries; its global economic and cultural influence. But California’s accomplishments are in spite of its state government, not because of it. That cannot be emphasized enough.

Newsom began by saying Californians had to make “tough calls” on the issues of transportation, water, energy, migrants, the homeless, healthcare, and the cost-of-living. He proceeded next to make no tough calls.

Forget About Fixing Roads, Let’s Build Half a Bullet-Train

With respect to transportation, Newsom made no mention of California’s crumbling, clogged freeways and connector roads. To be fair to Newsom, when you don’t have to commute day after day during rush hour — and even when you do drive, you have a driver so you can sit in the back seat of a very quiet, very smooth ride, and conduct teleconferences — you don’t really think about “roads” the same way the rest of us do. So understandably, Newsom chose to talk about high speed rail, and even on that topic, he hedged his bets. He proclaimed the project would cost too much and take too long to build a track from Sacramento all the way to San Diego, or even from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Instead he committed to focusing on completing the track from Merced to Bakersfield, where work has already begun.

Is this denial? Or just the out-of-touch priorities of an extremely wealthy man who doesn’t have to drive? Merced? To Bakersfield? Along the entire 163 mile stretch between these two cities, including everyone living in all the five surrounding counties, there are only 2.8 million people. How much will that cost? $10 billion? $20 billion (more likely)? Has Newsom considered how much highway improvement could be done with all that money? For that matter, might we ask the voters of Fresno and Kern counties, as if all that money should be spent there — “would you rather have $20 billion spent on road improvements, or that train?” Or are we afraid of the answer? Does Gavin Newsom understand that even if high-speed rail were built in all its original scope, it would still do virtually nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges, which can only be solved by building new roads and widening existing roads?

Forget About Increasing Water Supply, Let’s Build Half of the “Twin Tunnels”

On the issue of water, Newsom also split the difference on what promises to be California’s second biggest infrastructure money pit after high-speed rail. That would be the two proposed “delta tunnels” that would transport runoff from Northern California, under the Sacramento River Delta, and onward to thirsty farms and cities in arid Southern California. But the governor didn’t call for two tunnels, nor did he kill the project. Like Solomon, Newsom is going to give the “water fix” advocates half of their baby. He wants to build one tunnel.

Newsom correctly stated that demand for water exceeds supply in California, but he was firmly in denial as to the solution, which is to create more supply. For the cost of even just one delta tunnel, massive desalination plants could be constructed on the Southern California coast. Those facilities, combined with runoff capture and sewage reuse projects throughout California’s coastal cities, could make them water independent. Seismic upgrades to levees along with new fish hatcheries could preserve cost-effective, environmentally acceptable movement of northern water to southern customers through the delta, something that’s worked for decades. And more storage via new off-stream reservoirs, aquifer recharge, and raising the Shasta Dam would supply additional millions of acre feet. Instead? A tunnel that will cost at least $20 billion, and add zero water to California’s annual supply.

Never Mind the Shortages We Created, Let’s Invite the World to Migrate Here

California’s politically sacred mission these days, of course, is to invite the migrants of the world to settle here. Newsom didn’t disappoint his crowd, trotting out dubious statistics to prove that undocumented immigration is a “manufactured problem.” But again, Newsom is denying the big picture: If California rolls out the welcome mat for the destitute masses of the world, where does it end? There’s good, accurate data available on this.

More than 800 million people in the world live in extreme poverty — defined as living on less than two dollars per day. What about Latin Americans, who according to Newsom’s equally photogenic counterpart in the U.S. Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), “must be exempt from immigration laws because they are ‘native’ to U.S. lands”? Over 150 million Latin Americans live on less than $4 per day. Hundreds of additional millions of Latin Americans struggle economically. Why not form “caravans” to bring them all here? Newsom, along with the entire California Legislature, will cheer them on and let them in, no matter what the cost.

As it is, currently 2.6 million undocumented immigrants live in California. Even the liberal website politifact.com acknowledges that 55 percent of immigrant households in California benefit from welfare, with their only supposedly debunking caveat being that some of these households have U.S. born children. Other recent studies put the California total as high as 72 percent. There is a cost to Californians for all this, estimated as high as $25 billion per year, so where does Gov. Newsom draw the line? Three million more migrants? Five million? Ten million? One hundred million? Or is he in denial?

And What About Those Politically Created Shortages?

Newsom mentioned “overcrowded classrooms,” and talked about “too much demand, too little supply” for housing. But his solution for education was, what a surprise, more money and “accountability for all public schools, traditional and charters” (a slap at the charter schools, well received based on the applause from the union-controlled audience). Newsom remained in denial as to the real reason California’s public schools are failing, the fact that teaching professionals have been unionized, and the unions have used the dues revenue to exercise nearly absolute control over state and local politicians. Thanks to the teachers union, bipartisan reforms to union work rules (dismissal policies, layoff criteria, lengthened tenure) are watered down or completely squelched, and charter schools are under constant attack.

As the old cornball adage goes, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, Gov. Newsom. Public sector unions destroyed public education in California. Do something about that, if your thousand watt compassionate smile is doing anything more than hiding a vacuous brain, guiding a feckless, morally indifferent human, attracted to nothing more than publicity, power, money, and beautiful women. That’s probably an overly harsh, unfair and inaccurate assessment of the Governor. So maybe he will silence his skeptics, by doing something that takes actual courage. Take on the teachers union. Don’t talk about it. Fight them. Fight them tooth and nail. Fight them on the beaches. Fight them in the streets. Fight them in the hills. Never give up.

Wasn’t Newsom’s campaign slogan “courage for change”? Offer that slogan, but nothing else, to the semi-literate, totally innumerate, thoroughly indoctrinated products of California’s public schools, and see how much good it does. They are the victims of the teachers unions. They need courage from the Governor. Not a pretty face. Not a pretty phrase.

Newsom’s solution for the housing shortage, so far, is to sue cities and counties that won’t build government subsidized “affordable housing.” But “affordable housing” is never affordable, and everyone knows that by now. It’s just a money tree for connected developers. To make homes “affordable” doesn’t have to cost taxpayers a dime. Just deregulate the private housing industry, making it easier to develop land. Then, strip away the overreaching design mandates that turn ordinary homes and apartments into hermetically sealed, stupefyingly expensive, miniature Borg cubes with embedded, connected chips in everything from the toilets to the coffeemaker, festooned with phony “gingerbread” eaves and trim that some marketing department tested with focus groups.

Newsom, to his credit, did mention the need to modify the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an absurdly intrusive law that is a gold mine for trial lawyers and unions who use it to stop land development in its tracks. But his solution? Turning CEQA reform over to a task force consisting of union officials and large home developers.

Newsflash, Gov. Newsom! Union officials and large home developers won’t benefit from CEQA reform, so they won’t come up with anything useful. They like CEQA just the way it is. Because CEQA is the reason the median home price in California is $547,400. That is an absolutely obscene amount for anyone to have to pay for a home. But it further enriches the billionaire land developers who have the political clout and financial heft to withstand the avalanche of CEQA lawsuits and regulatory hurdles. Who is harmed by CEQA? The average Joe who owns ten acres and knows a building contractor. Those guys can only dream of meaningful CEQA reform. Better yet, they should move to Texas which is still open for business. Or, that is, move to Texas before Gov. Newsom’s other photogenic counterpart, “Beto,” and his gang of Leftists with a twang, manage to turn that state into another California.

Charisma Can’t Make Up for Denial, But Redemption is Possible

On every topic, Newsom’s theme was at least consistent. Let’s be tough, let’s be honest, let’s do our duty to ALL Californians. But he wasn’t tough, and he wasn’t honestly choosing the right questions to ask, so it’s hard to see how he was doing his duty to all Californians. And for a man leading the biggest state in the United States, who could very well end up being inaugurated as the next U.S. President in January 2024, we need more. Much more. Here are three topics of bipartisan urgency that Newsom should have, but didn’t touch.

He didn’t talk about how on the next economic downturn, state and local public employee pensions are poised to bankrupt half of California’s cities and counties and totally blow up the state budget.

He didn’t talk about how California’s public employee unions have formed a coalition with extreme environmentalists and Leftist billionaires to stop all development of land and energy in order to create an asset bubble that benefits public coffers and private investments while screwing everyone else.

He didn’t talk about how, even if you believe all the alarmist hyperbole regarding climate change, you can’t possibly go “carbon free” without more hydro-electric and nuclear power.

Newsom’s mannerisms might remind one of Chris Collinsworth, a tall and well-liked sportscaster who talks with a perpetual smile on his face. But Newsom isn’t a sportscaster. He’s presiding over a state — with 40 million people and “the fifth largest economy on earth” — that has been taken over by a gang of money grubbing, power-mad, opportunistic, platitude-spewing con artists.

If Newsom’s intentions are half as benevolent as that compassionate smile of his tells us they are, and if his “courage for change” is sincere, then here’s another way he can redeem himself in the eyes of his skeptics. He can live the life that his political comrades have imposed on California’s hardest working residents. Instead of moving into a 12,000-square-foot mansion, located on an eight acre compound in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in Sacramento County, Newsom should move his family into one of those California median priced $547,400 homes, situated on a 3,200 square foot lot, surrounded by other homes on 3,200-square-foot lots, and send his four children to a public school.

Redemption is good for the soul, so there’s more: for Newsom to fully live the California dream, and prove he cares about “ALL Californians,” he should give his personal wealth away to charity — or better yet, send it to the CalPERS public employee pension fund because they’re going after every dime they can get their hands on. Then, Newsom should cut his governor’s pay to $71,805, which is California’s median household income, and refuse all outside honorariums and fees. And he should do this not for two weeks to make a statement, or even for the next four years. He should do this for the rest of his life.

He would be in denial no longer.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Trump demands $3.5 billion back from ‘disaster’ high-speed rail project

donald-trump-2President Donald Trump is demanding California return billions of dollars to the federal government following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to scale down the state’s costly high-speed rail project.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump called the project a “’green disaster.’”

California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump added. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now.”

Newsom at his State of the State Address on Tuesday put the brakes on the $77 billion high speed project, an endeavor that voters authorized at the ballot box in 2008 with a plan to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. …

Click here to read the full article from the Mercury News

Gov. Newsom Downgrades Bullet Train and Delta Tunnel Plans

High speed rail constructionWhen Gavin Newsom was running for governor last year, he adopted “courage for a change” as his slogan.

It could be – and was – interpreted two ways: that he wanted to change the direction of California, or that he was disparaging outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s reluctance to confront the state’s pithiest issues.

Newsom seemingly embraced both versions Tuesday in his first State of the State address, a very long and detailed laundry list of the state’s ills and how he intends to deal with them that directly and indirectly refuted Brown.

Most starkly, Newsom downgraded two of his predecessor’s pet legacy projects, twin tunnels to carry water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a statewide bullet train system.

He rejected WaterFix, as it’s been dubbed, and instead offered support for one tunnel while seeking compromise among California’s perpetually warring water factions. However, shrinking the project would require starting over on many years of planning twin tunnels, thus giving opponents of diverting water from the Delta new opportunities to kill it. Moreover, it’s questionable whether lowering the project’s capacity would make it pencil out for its sponsors, principally Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.

Newsom also hit the pause button for compelling farmers south of the Delta to cede more water by calling for a compromise agreement and changing the chairmanship of the State Water Resources Control Board, whose water diversion plans had angered farmers.

The bullet train project fared even worse in Newsom’s declaration that “as currently planned (it) would cost too much and take too long.”

Casting aside Brown’s obvious love for a statewide system linking Sacramento and San Francisco in the north to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south, Newsom called for completing just the roughly 100-mile-long initial San Joaquin Valley segment, from Merced to near Bakersfield, and making it a high-speed system.

However, electrifying the track now under construction and buying high-speed trains to run on it would be an enormously expensive gesture for such short service. More likely, the stretch of track, when completed, will be folded into the region’s existing Amtrak service.

Newsom’s declarations on the water tunnels and the bullet train were the biggest nuggets of news in his speech, most of which was devoted to issues he had raised in the campaign, in his inaugural address and in his first budget.

He hit all the big bullet points, from California’s housing crisis to the increasing threat of wildfires and the bankruptcy of utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric, and pronounced that all could be solved by collaboration and new thinking. And, of course, he took the obligatory potshots that the governor of a deep blue state is expected to take at President Donald Trump, particularly on Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The border ‘emergency’ is a manufactured crisis,” Newsom declared – quite accurately. “And California will not be part of this political theater.”

A day earlier, he had announced that he would withdraw most of the National Guard troops that Brown, albeit reluctantly, had committed to guarding the border.

All in all, Newsom set an ambitious agenda for his governorship, the sort of multi-point plan that Brown had often denigrated. And in doing so, the new governor set a high mark for his political future.

Achieving all he seeks would propel him into White House contention sometime after 2020. Failing, for whatever reason, would make him a footnote in California’s political history.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California to pull plug on billion-dollar bullet train

High Speed Rail ConstructionCalifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday he is pulling the plug on the state’s massive high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco that was more than a decade behind schedule and billions in the red.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Newsom added that while California has “the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield,” “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

The embattled $77-billion bullet train has been an embarrassment for the Golden State and has been plagued by problems almost from the start.

The idea, long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule with the latest estimate for completion set for 2033. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Gov. Newsom Will Face Intense Questioning on Bullet Train

High Speed RailWhen Gavin Newsom is sworn in as California governor on Jan. 7, he’s already indicated he will take criticisms of the state’s troubled $77 billion high-speed rail project seriously.

That’s in sharp contrast to outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown, who described project critics as “declinists” with no vision for what the Golden State could become. Brown only offered vague pronouncements when asked about giant cost overruns and the $50 billion or more gap between available funding and what’s needed to build the high-speed rail linking Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If Newsom lives up to his word, he’s going to need to respond to profound issues raised by project watchers in and out of the state government over the last two months.

In November, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a harsh report on poor management practices in the California High-Speed Rail Authority, especially the billions in cost overruns due to the decision to launch construction of the project’s $10.6 billion, 119-mile first segment in the Central Valley before the authority was fully ready. Howle’s audit led Newsom to tell a Fresno audience that he might shake up the leadership of the rail authority.

Among the few specifically positive observations that Newsom has made in recent months about the project was that the first segment held promise to link Silicon Valley workers with less expensive housing in the Central Valley.

Project seen as ‘notoriously unpopular’ in Central Valley

But a Dec. 23 Sacramento Bee analysis found that even though the bullet train project was generating thousands of jobs in the agricultural region, it was “notoriously unpopular” among residents.

“They resent how construction has carved up their farms and scrambled their highways,” the Bee reported. “Completion of just a partial segment through the Valley is still years away, and residents doubt the project will ever get finished. They question the promises that high-speed rail will lift the Valley out of its economic doldrums.”

This skepticism is increasingly shared by elected Democrats both in the Central Valley and the rest of the state.

A Dec. 28 Los Angeles Times report quoted Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon as saying problems with the bullet train are so widespread that it should “be paused for a reassessment.” Rendon said the prospect that the project would run out of money before ever reaching the Los Angeles region left voters in the area feeling deceived.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, has made clear that he will work to have rail authority chairman Dan Richard ousted because of cost overruns and management issues.

The bullet train’s image has also deteriorated among state pundits.

When California voters approved $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the then-$45 billion project in 2008, the ballot initiative was broadly supported by newspaper editorial boards.

“Americans who visit Japan or Europe and hop a bullet train get a stunning reminder of how far behind much of the industrialized world we are in swift, clean, efficient transportation,” the San Jose Mercury-News editorial page declared on Oct. 18, 2008. “Californians can change that by approving Proposition 1A, a bond to begin construction of a high-speed rail system that would whisk passengers from Los Angeles to the Bay Area through downtown San Jose in a mere 2 1/2 hours. It will be a catalyst for the economic growth of California and this region over the next 100 years.”

An editorial printed last month in the Mercury-News showed a 180-degree swing in opinion: “The incompetence and irresponsibility at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are staggering. … It’s time to end this fiasco to stop throwing good money after bad.”

Decision on cap-and-trade funding may signal Newsom’s intentions

An early sign of Newsom’s level of enthusiasm for continuing on Brown’s path is likely in coming weeks as initial work is done on the 2019-20 state budget. The California Air Resources Board reported pulling in $813 million from its Nov. 14 auction of cap-and-trade air pollution credits – a heavy haul.

If Newsom opposes diverting 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue to the bullet-train project – as has been done since 2015 – that will be the clearest indication yet that he is ready to back away from the troubled project.

Gavin Newsom Inherits California’s Troubled Bullet Train Project

High Speed Rail ConstructionGov. Jerry Brown has devoted half a century of political knowledge and power to advance the California bullet train construction project, but he leaves office with its future badly damaged by cost overruns, mismanagement and delays.

It hands incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom a tough decision: delay indefinitely the goal of a statewide bullet train system and salvage something useful out of the billions of dollars already spent, or stick with the original vision and find at least $50 billion in new money to keep it going.

Either option will probably lead to a clash between the project’s die-hard supporters and its skeptics. Almost every major engineering and construction firm has a big stake in the project, as do unions, small businesses and city governments. The outcome will depend on how much fiscal pain and risk Democrats are willing to accept.

So far, Newsom has only hinted at what he will do, saying at times the effort must continue in some form — though with less gusto than Brown exhibited as he championed what has grown into the nation’s largest infrastructure effort over the last eight years. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

What the High-Speed Rail Audit Really Means

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustAlthough the midterm election was held on November 6th, the news media was absorbed for several weeks with undecided close races and the strength of the “blue wave,” especially here in California. Perhaps that is why a report from the Auditor of the State of California on the High Speed Rail Project issued the following week did not receive as much attention as it would otherwise warrant.

To understand just how damning the HSR audit was, just consider the subtitle:  “Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”  But like many government documents, the audit is couched in bureaucratic language that ordinary citizens may not understand.  For that reason, below are the summary points as provided by the state auditor with accompanying translations.

Auditor: “Although the Authority has secured and identified funding of over $28 billion that it expects will be sufficient to complete initial segments, that funding will not be enough to connect those segments, or finish the rest of the system—estimated to cost over $77 billion.”

Translation: The Authority has succeeded in talking both the federal government and the state of California into providing billions of dollars on a failed project and yet still has no idea where the rest of the money will come from.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Mismanaged High-Speed Rail Project Must End

High Speed Rail ConstructionIn 2008, California voters approved a bond for a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with the fast-growing cities in the state’s Central Valley. With trains running at 220 miles per hour on dedicated tracks, California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) would be the first true high-speed rail line in the U.S. The project’s backers, including Governor Jerry Brown, promised that CAHSR would cost just $33 billion and be finished by 2022, including extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. It would whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes—fast enough, if European experience is a guide, to convince most air travelers on that route to take the train instead.

Ten years later, supporters have ample cause to reconsider. CAHSR’s costs have severely escalated: the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) now estimates that the train’s core segment alone, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will cost from $77 billion to $98 billion. Promises that private investors would cover most of the costs have fallen through. Forecasts for the project’s completion date and travel times have also slipped. The fastest trains in the CHSRA’s current business plan have a running time of over three hours, and the first segment of the line—San Jose to Bakersfield, almost 200 miles short of completion—won’t open until 2029.

The project’s troubles have been largely self-inflicted, starting with poor route choices. At the south end of the line, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, rather than proceeding in a direct route from Los Angeles to the northwest through Tejon Pass, roughly along Interstate 5, the planned line takes a detour to the northeast through Palmdale, a rapidly growing exurb, and enters the Central Valley through Tehachapi Pass. The CHSRA justified this choice by arguing that the Tejon route would require more tunnels and slow curves and be more vulnerable to earthquakes.

But in a convincing independent analysis, aerospace engineer and transportation activist Clem Tillier has called the CHSRA’s study of the Tejon alternative “a finely crafted web of distortions.” The study, Tillier wrote, used skewed assumptions guaranteed to produce a poor Tejon route. Most notably, the CHSRA supposed that no route could cross a planned residential development in a key portion of Tejon Pass. The CHSRA instead produced a Tejon alignment that veered around the development with sharp curves and six extra miles of tunnel, even though the additional tunnel would cost more than buying the entire development outright. Tillier concluded that a better Tejon alignment would save 12 minutes of travel time and $5 billion in construction costs over Tehachapi. These 12 minutes could make a critical difference to ridership, as most studies have found that trains rapidly lose riders to airplanes for journeys longer than about three hours. Speculation that the interests of real-estate developers rather than riders motivated the Tehachapi detour is hard to dismiss.

The CHSRA has also wasted large sums of money through poor management. Tillier has detailed how the Authority plans to spend billions to outfit Bay Area stations with unnecessary tunnels and viaducts, rather than making elementary improvements to operations. A state audit has shown that the CHSRA knowingly incurred massive additional cost risks by starting construction prematurely; desperate to show progress and to meet a deadline for federal funds, the CHSRA began construction in the Central Valley without buying all the land it needed, or even completing negotiations with the freight railroads whose rights-of-way it planned to use. The state auditor also criticized the CHSRA for hiring expensive consultants, over the objections of its former CEO, to do routine budgeting work.

Some of the worst revelations in the state auditor’s report concern basic failures of contract management. The CHSRA paid contractors without inspecting their work, and contract managers’ review of the quality and cost of finished products was often so shoddy that the auditor could not even conclude whether the CHSRA’s spending was justified. In one especially egregious case, in 2017, the CHSRA hired an external consultant to check the work of Parsons Brinckerhoff (now WSP USA), which had been paid $666 million for engineering consulting. The external consultant found that the CHSRA had not received finished work for 145 of 184 tasks that Parsons Brinckerhoff had called “complete.”

It seems clear that the CHSRA is too incompetent to manage a project of California HSR’s complexity. The Authority has promised to consider the audit’s recommendations, but as CHSRA has already been criticized for its lax management for years, such promises are scant comfort. Possibly the best chance to salvage the project would be to turn it over wholesale to a European or Japanese railroad with prior experience managing high-speed rail projects, but CHSRA’s work has been so slapdash that it’s hard to imagine a competent foreign entity wanting to take over the mess. (In 2009, the French national railroad SNCF offered to build the project along a slightly different route, and even lined up private funding. The CHSRA rebuffed the offer and kept silent about it for years, until the California legislature authorized public construction funds.)

Fortunately, only a small fraction of CAHSR’s projected cost—$1.4 billion out of nearly $100 billion total—has been spent so far. The question arises whether the remaining money, almost all of it coming from California taxpayers, could be put to better uses. Countless projects suggest themselves, ranging from road repair—the poor state of California’s roads is notorious—to shoring up the state’s precarious finances. Even within the narrow field of rail transit, some portion of CAHSR’s cost could be instead given to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has already demonstrated an ability to finish projects within reasonable budgets. A comparatively small amount of state aid to LA Metro would do far more for California’s environment and economy than CAHSR.

It’s hard to see why the project should continue. The CHSRA’s planning model has been to keep problems secret for as long as possible, then hope that all the money invested so far is enough to convince the public to keep throwing good money after bad. Fortunately, high-ranking officials—including the chair of the state assembly’s transportation committee, who recently called for the CHSRA chairman to resign—seem increasingly aware of the disaster that CAHSR has become. Incoming governor Gavin Newsom, unlike his predecessor, has at least questioned the project’s utility. More public pressure may persuade him to drop his support of CAHSR and put the money to better uses. Californians should demand the project’s immediate cancellation.

Elon Musk’s “Loop” Faces Trouble While the Bullet Train Rolls On

Hyperloop 1Call this a tale of two transit systems.

There is Elon Musk’s electric-powered platforms or skates called the Loop designed to shoot cars or mass transit vehicles holding up to 16 people through tunnels at 150 miles per hour throughout Los Angeles. Yet, a crucial piece of the network through the agonizingly crowded 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass was scuttled because of a lawsuit dealing with state environmental laws. Then there is the state’s high-speed rail project that marches forward despite numerous environmental lawsuits and funding issues.

Whether Musk’s transit system would work as described is not proven. Maybe it will run into some of the same hurdles as the high-speed rail—cost overruns, skepticism that the train can reach both its passenger goals and promised speeds.

Yet, environmental laws disrupted the Musk project but have not knocked out the bullet train.

Make no mistake, we are told both projects are designed to help the environment. The bullet train will take travelers out of their automobiles while the Musk transit system is moving vehicles around faster so they are not idling, spewing pollutants.

The Loop fell victim to a state environmental law that says infrastructure projects cannot be approved in a piecemeal fashion. Musk had sought avoidance of environmental review on what he called a stand-alone project but a couple of neighborhood associations representing areas near Sepulveda Boulevard on the west side of Los Angeles sued. Musk settled the lawsuit and put aside the tunneling project. His Boring Company has other tunneling projects in the LA area in the works, including one to run from Union Station to Dodger Stadium.

In the meantime, the high-speed rail is facing up to seven lawsuits but has not yet been “de-railed” by any of them.

The train authority also must deal with a recent audit of the project by the state auditor critical of cost overruns and building delays.

Today in Sacramento, California High Speed Rail Authority leaders will respond to the audit before a hearing of the Assembly Transportation and Joint Legislative Audit Committees.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno who called for the audit plans to examine the authority on a number of issues raised in the audit including whether contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were properly fulfilled; and whether the authority will complete it initial 119-mile segment of the track by December 2020 so as to avoid the loss of $3.5 billion in federal funds.

Despite the audit and the lawsuits based on environmental concerns, the high-speed rail moves on. However, an environmental laws disrupt the potentially more effective Loop plan dealing with the environment.

It helps to have a powerful advocate on the side of the bullet train. How the bullet train fares with Governor Jerry Brown letting go the reins of power is interesting to contemplate.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily