Would you agree to borrow funds and order the fastest production model Corvette at a reasonable price but accept a partially built Impala for twice the agreed price and a promise that somewhere in the very distant future the Impala would be completed? This is precisely the scenario California taxpayers are facing with the California High Speed Rail project.
In 2006 promoters of California High Speed Rail advertised an 800-mile high speed passenger rail system with green, electric-powered 220 mph trains connecting Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego for a cost of $33 billion. Congressman Kevin McCarthy campaigned to put Proposition 1A on the November 2008 ballot. Prop. 1A is the initiative that authorized funding for high speed rail.
In November 2008, 52 percent of California voters narrowly approved the project although the cost had already increased to $45 billion. The 2008 Prop. 1A Initiative mandated by law the allocation of federal funds for the project to be used under specific conditions, including matching state funds and private investment, with no operating subsidies. In November 2011 the High Speed Rail Authority released a draft business plan that reduced the scope of the project from 800 to 520 miles. The Sacramento connector and L.A. Basin to San Diego sections of the project were removed and the cost increased to $98.5 billion.
In April 2012, the Authority issued another business plan that claimed a project cost reduction from $98.5 billion to $68.4 billion. Disturbingly, another expensive 40 mile section of the project between Los Angeles and Anaheim was eliminated, reducing the scope of the project to only 480 miles. The current "blended" business plan substituted high speed rail construction for upgrades to slow-speed conventional passenger rail systems in "bookend regions" of the San Francisco Bay Peninsula and L.A. Basin with a wink and nod promise that high speed rail would one day be constructed from Merced to the L.A. Basin.
Gov. Jerry Brown believes the project will be subsidized for an unknown amount despite the fact that a subsidy is against the law. Recently, during an interview with conservative talk host Larry Elder on "Good Day L.A.," Elder pointed out that "There's no way this train will be run without state subsidies." Brown replied, "You don't think the freeways are run with subsidies? The airports are run with subsidies. Come on. It costs money."
On Jan. 16, The Californian published Terry Phillips' op-ed, "Keeping high-speed rail on track requires courage, vision." The fact of the matter is that the high speed rail project has already jumped its track. Phillips accused McCarthy of being a flip-flopper because he promoted funding for the project in 2008 but has now introduced House Resolution 3143 to freeze federal dollars earmarked for the project. McCarthy certainly does not need me to stick up for him. After all, voters overwhelmingly elected him over Phillips last November. Authentic, responsible and principled leaders often have to change their positions as circumstances change. That kind of leadership takes courage.
In 2010, the Authority was approached by the renowned French National Railway to build the rail line along the Interstate 5 corridor and partner with it or another foreign firm to hold down costs. They suggested that the project could use the help of an experienced bullet train operator. The French offered to help the Authority identify a profitable route, hold down building costs, develop realistic ridership forecasts and attract private investors, which is a requirement of the bond measure. The I-5 route would be a shorter, faster and much lower cost alignment, with a price tag of about $38 billion, which is almost half the cost of the Authority's current route. The Authority turned down the offer.
California taxpayers are outraged. We have been dishonestly tricked by the High Speed Rail Authority. Nevertheless, Phillips and the other blind cheerleaders for this project expect us to accept half the project we were promised for twice the price. That is not courage or vision. It is absurd.
Jeff Taylor owns a contracting firm and is co-founder and chairman of the Save Bakersfield Committee. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.