By Lilac Sunday
Newly-elected Governors in Ohio and Wisconsin recognized that high speed rail (HSR) projects in their own states were a luxury their taxpayers could not afford, and asked the Department of Transportation for permission to reallocate the federal HSR funds they'd been awarded to other pressing transportation projects, such as roadway improvements.
In response, the Department of Transportation withdrew $1.2 billion in federal funds from Ohio and Wisconsin, and awarded $624 million of it to California's HSR project, popularly known as the Train to Nowhere.
California's HSR project is an ambitious plan to build a high speed connection between San Francisco in the north and Anaheim in the south. The project is having difficulty getting off the ground due to: public opposition to the HSR route proposed on the Peninsula south of San Francisco: public opposition to HSR routes planned east of San Francisco; civil rights complaints by minority groups claiming they are being left out of the contracting process; ethics and conflict-of-interest violations by California HSR Board members; and no fewer than five separate analyses this year alone indicating that California's HSR project is based on inflated ridership estimates and a flawed financial model (see, e.g., the University of California, the Legislature's Peer Review Committee, the Legislative Analyst's Office, the State Auditor, and the State Inspector General.)
Nonetheless, California's HSR Authority has soldiered on, and announced a plan to spend $4.2 billion in federal funds to build a 65 mile segment between two tiny San Joaquin Valley towns, Borden and Corcoran. This first segment will include tracks, platforms, and stations, but will not include locomotives or passenger cars, or the power source necessary to run any trains on the track. No passengers will be carried on this segment of the project until the rest of the project is built.
The HSR Authority's criteria for selecting to spend money on this lonely stretch of track? They have a use-or-lose deadline by which they need to commit the money, there is little public opposition, and the track could conceivably be used by someone someday if the rest of the system is never built.
In other words, Obama's Department of Transportation has disregarded the real, immediate transportation needs of Ohio and Wisconsin in favor of a 65 mile long section of track in California that may not ever transport anyone anywhere.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how your tax dollars are being spent in California.
Obama has already withdrawn $1.5 billion from California's 2011 HSR budget, but the remainder of the federal commitment needs to be withdrawn as well. These large public works projects always unfold the same way: once they start building this boondoggle, taxpayers at the state and federal level will be required to contribute ever increasing amounts of money to support the project, on the grounds of not abandoning investments they've already made. This obligation will continue in perpetuity, as every public transit system is California requires subsidies in order to operate, and the California HSR Authority's rosy ridership estimates have been thoroughly discredited.
Majority Leader-Elect Eric Cantor has launched a website called You Cut, where we are invited to nominate and vote on cuts in federal spending. If there is any justice, California's High Speed Rail Boondoggle, it's Train to Nowhere, will make it to the top of the You Cut list.
Cross-posted at Lilac Sunday: Red Girl in a Blue State