California Democrats, their state broke and headed for bankruptcy, vote to commence the high speed train to nowhere. Just as in Connecticut, the people get the legislature they deserve, but where to go?
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers approved billions of dollars Friday in construction financing for the initial segment of the nation’s first dedicated high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The move marked a major political victory for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and the Obama administration. Both have promoted bullet trains as job generators and clean transportation alternatives.
“No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement applauding the legislative vote. “With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative.”
The bill authorizes the state to begin selling $4.5 billion in voter-approved bonds that includes $2.6 billion to build an initial 130-mile stretch of the high-speed rail line in the Central Valley. That will allow the state to collect another $3.2 billion in federal funding that could have been rescinded if lawmakers failed to act Friday.
Members of the state Senate voted 21-16 along party lines after intense lobbying by Brown, Democratic leaders and labor groups. The bill, which passed the state Assembly on Thursday, now heads to Brown for his signature.
The first segment of the line will run from Madera to Bakersfield. The final cost of the completed project from Los Angeles to San Francisco would be $68 billion.
Landmarks include the notable and historic Madera water tower and the city’s fully operational drive-in movie theater.
Noteworthy persons born or raised in Madera include: NONE
Bakersfield is a desert city of 361,000 whose principle economic drivers are oil and agriculture. How either of these two industries will benefit from a high speed passenger train is unclear.
UPDATE: How much of a boondoggle have California Democrats just stuck on a state that already has a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall? This much (and this is just for the first Madera-Bakersfield portion):
If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law.
The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included — the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.
Over four years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority would need as many as 120 permits, mostly from a tangle of government regulatory agencies not known to rush their business. It would need to acquire about 1,100 parcels of land, many from powerful agriculture interests that have already threatened to sue. And it would need to assemble five teams of contractors with giant workforces positioned from Fresno to Bakersfield, moving millions of tons of gravel, steel rail and heavy equipment across the valley.
Even if the authority avoids any delays, its ability to complete the first construction section on time will require a breakneck pace of activity.
“It is a very aggressive plan,” said Manuel Garcia, associate director at the Construction Industry Institute affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin. “It does appear that it will be a challenge.”
If the rail authority runs into technical problems, legal disputes, permit delays or political roadblocks, it could end up building less track and potentially leave an uncompleted project, according to warnings contained in its own business plan. If the project blows past the federal deadline, for example, the flow of money could be stopped. And the scramble to meet that deadline could lead to construction problems and drive up costs.
Rail officials acknowledge that their plans are aggressive but describe them as not unprecedented, pointing to the fast construction pace of the new Bay Bridge in Oakland and the Alameda Corridor freight rail line in Los Angeles.
But state reports show the $6.5-billion Bay Bridge will have an average spending pace, or “burn rate,” of $1.8 million per day when it is completed in 2013, less than half what the rail authority is planning. The Alameda Corridor had a similar $1.8-million-per-day burn rate by its completion in April 2002, much less than planned for the bullet train even when adjusted for inflation.
The hurried project to improve I-15 in Salt Lake City before the 2002 Olympics, known in the construction industry as one of the fastest well-executed work packages, spent $1.6 million per day, according to John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
“That was a burn rate like we have never seen before,” he said, which was on schedule only because of careful planning. The California effort would more than double that pace.Outside experts say that only careful management like that in the Utah job can ensure that the Central Valley rail plan does not go haywire. The rail authority has just 37 employees and has been operating for months without a chief executive, a deputy chief executive or a chief financial officer. It also has no single executive overseeing construction, which outside consultants say is needed.
“You have 37 mere mortals who have never done anything like this before,” said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a retired UC Berkeley professor of civil engineering and director of the National Science Foundation’s project on California’s transportation infrastructure. “They need God, because he’s the only one who can handle this management challenge.”
A final environmental report on about half of the 130-mile project is uncompleted and months behind schedule, forcing the agency to start work initially on a 29-mile section from Madera to Fresno and hope that it can get the review problems with the rest of the line cleared up later this year.
UPATE II: This provision alone explains what’s wrong with modern public spending, politicians, and why this particular project is doomed before it even starts:
At least two companies that are on consortiums qualified to bid on the project are backing away, The Times has learned. The project is further complicated by tinkering designed to placate communities: Contractors must agree to set aside nearly one-third of their work for small businesses, for example, a far higher amount than in other projects.