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

Rushed construction cost high-speed rail $600 million and delays mount

High speed rail constructionCalifornia’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. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Time to hit the pause button on high-speed rail

High speed rail constructionJerry Brown did not invent the idea of a high-speed rail system to connect Northern and Southern California.

It was voted on by the state Legislature and ratified by voters years before he returned to the governor’s office in 2011. But for the last eight years, as cost estimates have skyrocketed and federal and private sector funding for the project has evaporated, Brown has become high-speed rail’s most persistent defender.

Only weeks away from the election to replace him, neither candidate for governor appears to share the depth of Brown’s commitment to a statewide rail system.

Fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom only talks about it under duress, and has indicated that he would adopt a much more gradual and incremental approach. Republican John Cox wants to scrap it altogether. Polling shows that public support has dropped considerably since Californians voted to authorize the project 10 years ago. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Gas-tax Opponents File Proposal to Kill High-Speed Rail Project

High speed railProponents of Proposition 6, the measure to repeal California’s gas tax hike, filed a new ballot measure Tuesday that would torpedo Gov. Brown’s high-speed rail project and prevent the state from spending gas tax funds on mass transit.

“We’re very pleased with the accountability this measure provides,” said Carl DeMaio, a talk radio host and chairman of the Prop. 6 campaign. He has accused the state’s Democratic establishment of wasting taxpayer money and unfairly burdening motorists — particularly working-class people who have long car commutes.

In addition to killing Brown’s $77 billion plan to send bullet trains zipping from Southern California to downtown San Francisco, the initiative that DeMaio and others submitted on Tuesday would mandate that all gas tax revenue go to roads. It would also dedicate the state’s sales tax on cars to all forms of transportation infrastructure including public transit, require annual audits on road projects and shift decision-making power on gas and car tax revenue from the state Capitol to city and county governments.

Supporters say these changes — which would go on the November ballot in 2020 — would boost California’s annual road coffers from $5.2 billion to $7.5 billion, and increase funding from general transit infrastructure from $1.8 billion to $7.4 billion a year. Opponents call the measure a repackaging of Prop 6, which strikes down the new 12-cent gasoline excise tax, vehicle fees and 20 cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel signed into law last year as SB1. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

Let’s Avoid a “High Speed Rail” Situation in Space

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Putting aside questions of effectiveness and even validity of the satellite project proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown at his Global Climate Action Summit, we should be concerned that the satellite could emulate the high-speed rail in that the costs will not be covered as promised and that taxpayers will end up holding the bag.

The release from the governor’s office said initial funding “has been provided by Dee and Richard Lawrence and OIF, as well as The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.” The release adds that, “Additional scientific, business and philanthropic partners are expected to join this initiative…”

Then there’s this: “Planet (Labs) will manage the mission operations and collaborate with the State of California and others on funding this groundbreaking effort.”

Clearly, the state–that is the taxpayers–are expected to chip in for the satellite project. More is expected from outside sources such as business and others. But let’s not forget the promise of the high-speed rail: That it would be funded by the state, federal and private interests. Yet, no private money has come forward.

Whether the state should even sponsor such an endeavor is not the issue here. The point to be considered is that given the situation with the rail, it would be best to have that money in the bank before setting off on this project; before the taxpayers are involved to a greater extent than desired.

Will California embark on the satellite project on the hope that money will come from private concerns? As with the high-speed rail, will we see a General Obligation bond to help support it?

Remember, the idea is not for one satellite but multiple satellites. No price tag was associated with the project so we can’t compare its costs to that of the rail project. But, who really knows the high-speed rail cost. It’s forever changing. Is that the future of the California satellite venture?

If, in fact, taxpayer money is involved it should also come from taxpayers beyond California’s borders. The satellite monitoring will be world-wide and at a minimum the United States Climate Alliance made up of 17 states that are involved in the alliance should contribute because they would benefit from any information the satellites collect.

On another level, you do have to hand it to a clever Jerry Brown for turning around the “Governor Moonbeam” moniker once given to him by Chicago Tribune columnist, Mike Royko, when Brown proposed California launch a satellite for a different purpose 40-plus years ago.

While Royko declared the moniker “null, void and deceased” 15 years after appending it to Brown, the governor has come to embrace the nickname. With his latest satellite pronouncement, he turned a mocking handle into a mark of enlightenment. And to do so at the end of his term completes the circle of his time as California’s governor.

But part of Royko’s complaint was the issue of cost and that nagging question of cost still exists. It is currently spoiling Brown’s signature issue, the high-speed rail. If the satellite proposal follows a similar path, it would undercut the now prized Gov. Moonbeam appellation.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Las Vegas to L.A. rail line gets new backer

Las Vegas railThere might be hope again for high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California.

Brightline, which already operates passenger rail service in Florida, has agreed to acquire XpressWest.

The federally approved project includes 38 acres of land adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip.

If approved, the light rail would transport passengers between Las Vegas and Victorville, California, in a little under two hours.

There has been talk of a high-speed rail for several years. The XpressWest project was once expected to break ground in 2012. Brightline says that construction is expected to begin next year.

The company has already launched a passenger service in Florida, running between Miami and West Palm Beach. …

Click here to read the full article from ABC13 News

Government Boondoggles Threaten CA Property Owners and Taxpayers

High Speed Rail FresnoOne would hope that with the profound foolishness associated with California’s infamous High Speed Rail (HSR) project that our elected leadership would have learned a thing or two.

But this is California. Because we do things bigger and better than anyone else, it’s apparent that one massive boondoggle isn’t enough — we need two.

Let’s recap what we’ll call Boondoggle, Senior.

The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute. Missed deadlines for the business plans, lack of transparency, massive cost overruns, engineering hurdles that make the project virtually impossible to complete and a lack of funding are tops on the list. Not only is HSR no longer viable, but the biggest irony is the project was justified on grounds that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even there it fails, as the independent Legislative Analyst has concluded that the project will be a net GHG producer for the foreseeable future.

HSR is now an international joke. Many who originally supported the High Speed Rail project have changed their opinions, including a former Chairman of the HSR Authority.

Boondoggle, Junior, is the planned construction of the Twin Tunnels project through the Sacramento River Delta, also known as WaterFix. While there is no doubt that California needs additional water infrastructure — and the dams and canals we have now are in need of serious maintenance – Governor Brown’s Twin Tunnel project suffers from the same major flaw as High Speed Rail — an abject lack of planning and no vision for how the project will be funded.

Like the High Speed Rail project, the financing for the Twin Tunnels is illusory. Many of the potential major wholesale customers of water from the Twin Tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which has now said it will pay for the full project. Of course, that means its customers will pay.

Lack of transparency is another quality the Twin Tunnels project shares with HSR. Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee held a hearing that opened the way for an extension of the long-term contracts for the State Water Project for another 50 years. (The hearing was supposed to be conducted in the waning days of the Legislative session, but because the topic is so controversial, it was delayed until after everyone left town.) …

Click here to read the full article from the Pasadena Star News

California Burning Through Billions in Taxpayer Dollars for the ‘Bullet’ Train

High Speed RailCalifornia’s biggest boondoggle just broke the bank.

Not only is the massive high-speed rail project 11 years behind schedule and billions in the red, but managers are also now saying they will need to ramp up spending to hit a 2033 deadline.

California’s money pit cost taxpayers $3.1 million a day last year.

But that’s small potatoes compared to what they’ll have to shell out over the next four if they want to meet their deadline and budget, estimated most recently at $100 billion in a report last month by The New York Times.

The California High Speed Rail Authority will have to increase its daily spending by nine times.

“It’s a very aggressive spending rate,” Russell Fong, the authority’s chief financial officer told the Los Angeles Times, admitting that future goals may be difficult to achieve. …

Click here to read the full article from True Pundit

Inflation and delays could add billions more to bullet train costs

High speed rail constructionThe California bullet train project has cost state taxpayers an average $3.1 million a day over the last year — a construction spending rate higher than that for the Bay Bridge, Boston’s Big Dig or any U.S. transportation project in recent history

But still it’s not enough, planners say.

In order to hit its 2033 deadline and $77-billion budget, the California High Speed Rail Authority will have to increase daily spending by up to nine times over the next four years or risk putting the already-delayed system further behind.

Russell Fong, the authority’s chief financial officer, acknowledges the goals will be difficult to achieve. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

Bullet Train’s Benefits to Southern California Questioned at Hearing

High speed rail constructionSouthern California Democrats have said few, if any, critical words about the state rail authority’s decision in 2016 to drop Los Angeles as the starting point of the first segment of the statewide bullet train.

Rail officials announced at the time that they would instead invest the vast majority of available money to begin building from the Central Valley to the Bay Area.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) broached the topic at a House rail subcommittee hearing on Thursday, asking state rail officials and other witnesses how he can justify the project to his constituents.

“What do I tell people in Los Angeles,” said Lowenthal, the former chairman of the state Senate transportation committee. “We talk about the [rail’s benefits] to Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, but … when are we going to see things going on in Los Angeles? We are the population center.”

Under the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans, it is providing more than $700 million to install an electrical power system for the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter system and another $400 million for a downtown San Francisco station, along with other much bigger investments that will flow through Santa Clara County. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times