Monday, April 12, 2010

Unicorns and Rainbows ride the rails

The California high-speed rail project is a perfect example of how citizens in California have slowly committed economic suicide by believing in unicorns and rainbows:

Is it a high-speed rail ride to the future or a Bay Bridge boondoggle times 10? That's what lawmakers are wondering as more and more questions arise about the plan to build a multibillion-dollar bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"I'm all for high-speed rail, but I want it to be high-speed rail done right," says state Sen. Joe Simitian.

Simitian has plenty of reasons to be concerned. Not only will the rail line go right through his Peninsula district, but also he chairs the Senate budget subcommittee that oversees the $9 billion in voter-approved bonds for the project.

In addition to worries about how many backyards will be torn up for the line, he and other key legislators are asking question's about the High Speed Rail Authority's business plan - which remains murky at best.

For example, no sooner had voters approved the bond package than the initial $33.6 billion price estimate jumped to $42.6 billion because the authority had failed to account for inflation. And that cost could climb even higher if the rail goes underground through the Peninsula, as many communities are now requesting.

Then there is the estimated ticket price for a trip from L.A. to San Francisco, which has jumped to $105 one way - making the line much less competitive with the price of an airline ticket...

One of the biggest fears, however, is that the state will not be able to keep the explicit promise made to voters that they would not be on the hook if the finances fall short.

This is becoming a common scenario in California; in this case, gullible voters approve billions for high-speed rail bonds without really knowing the total cost. The whole project was sold as a solution to a host of issues like pollution reduction, congestion reduction, and besides, Europe has high speed rail and we should be just like them. All good reasons, I guess, to blow through billions of state funds on a project that smells like a boondoggle.

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