The High-speed Rail Authority will meet today in Sacramento to vote on whether to sell more than $8 billion in bonds to commence building the tracks in Madera County. While that work would create some welcome, if temporary jobs here, starting perhaps as early as the fall, big questions remain about whether the authority will be left with miles of empty tracks and not much else to show for the money spent.
The organization Families Protecting the Valley, which opposes the project for various reasons, lays out some assertions about why the state may be left holding the bag:
- U.S. Senate Democrats, in their just-released 10-year transportation budget, show no money for California High-speed rail. The Republicans also turn their backs on California HSR. Yet, the high-speed rail proposal promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown assumes considerable federal funding as the years roll on. It’s fairly clear, though, that even Democrats aren’t impressed. Of course, we are told by none other than the Senate Democrats that Senate budgets count for almost nothing.
- Quentin Kopp, a former state legislator and former chair of the California High-speed Rail Authority board and tub-thumper for the system, says the present proposal violates the terms of Prop. 1A, the 2008 measure that authorizes the rail system and a total of $9.95 billion in bonds to get it off the ground. All those bonds are general obligation bonds, which means that while fare-box income is supposed to be used to pay them off, the fact is, voters are on the hook for them. Once they are sold, we will have no choice but to pay them back. If Kopp has lost faith, the merits of the system may be doubtful.
- The nature of the project is changing. Instead of being entirely a high-speed rail system, it will be a blended system, tying in with other rail transportation. While that in itself isn’t necessarily bad, it will not be what the electorate voted for, which was a train system that would carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at more than 200 miles an hour. It now looks like the speed will be 50 miles an hour less than that. It sounds like lawsuits waiting to be filed by people who arrive late.
- It will rip up some valley farms, roads, irrigation infrastructure and other agricultural assets, and will violate environmental laws if the presently chosen route is used. Some generous payments and mitigation might alleviate some of those concerns, but don’t count on it.
So far, lawsuits against the system and its route have been settled. The court has upheld the plan. It may be that we are in Oz, and the track will be like the yellow-brick road.