It’s not often that this editorial board sees eye-to-eye with leaders from the California Legislature, but it’s apparent that legislative leaders are rightly skeptical of the high speed rail project, a fact confirmed by recent reporting by CalMatters.
“There is no confidence in the project,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told freelancer Ralph Vartabedian at CalMatters. “We had an end date of 2020 and now we don’t have an end date.”
This was a project that was supposed to cost $33 billion and be up and running by now. It’s now expected to cost over three times the price and is still years away. Even the line from Bakersfield to Merced is years away.
Clearly, this is not what Californians had in mind when they approved bonds to set this project in motion.
“The project is not proceeding according to a robust plan, which results in waste and other inefficiencies,” Bent Flyvbjerg at Oxford’s Saïd Business School and IT University of Copenhagen told Vartabedian. “Given the political divisions, the cost growth, the schedule delays and the lack of a sound future revenue source, this project is going to the graveyard of famous boondoggles.”
Vartabedian notes that supporters of high-speed rail point to the good-paying jobs produced by the construction of the project. But that’s obviously not the point of the high-speed rail project as proposed to voters more than a decade ago.
Californians expected a swiftly built high-speed rail project linking the northern and southern parts of the state for a sizable but relatively defensible amount of money.
What they’re getting is a project far behind schedule at multiples of the cost — tens of billions of dollars that, objectively, could go to better purposes than a project that has essentially become a money pit.
“The idea that you would spend all your money on a train that doesn’t connect to anything and just hope that you’re going to get more money, I find a really frightening business proposition,” Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, told CalMatters.
Californians deserve better than this.
Three years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom had an opportunity to prove he could be a competent leader. At his very first State of the Address, he sounded like this editorial board when speaking about the bullet train. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
He was right about that, but then proceeded to simply double down on the Bakersfield-Merced line which, respectfully, isn’t exactly what anyone would consider a necessary project.
While Democrats in the Assembly don’t go as far as we do in calling for an end to the bullet train project, we are encouraged by their willingness to be openly skeptical of the project. Since Newsom won’t be the adult in the room, legislative leaders must continue to stand up to calls to fund the project as Newsom wishes.