George F. Will: A Golden State train wreck

Published: August 9, 2012
Advertisement
;

State Sen. Joe Simitian's district office near Stanford's campus is nestled among shops sporting excruciatingly cute names (“A Street Bike Named Desire,” “Mom's the Word” maternity wear) intended to make the progressive gentry comfortable with upscale consumption by presenting it as whimsical. This community surely has its share of advanced thinkers who believe trains are wonderful because they are not cars (rampant individualism; people going wherever and whenever they want, unsupervised).

Nevertheless, Simitian was one of just four Democratic state senators who recently voted — in vain — to derail plans that eventually may involve spending more than $100 billion on a 500-mile bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Simitian makes the obligatory genuflection: He favors high-speed rail “done right.” But having passed sixth-grade arithmetic, he has doubts. At one point, an estimate of 44 million riders a year — subsequently revised downward, substantially — assumed gasoline costing $40 a gallon.

In 2008, Californians passed an initiative authorizing $9.95 billion in bonds to build what they were told would be a $33 billion high-speed rail system. California, constantly lurching from one budget crisis to a worse one, could not nearly afford even that, and soon the price was re-estimated at around $100 billion. Not to worry, said Gov. Jerry Brown, the real price will be only $68.5 billion. Why? Partly because it will be less than bullet-like, not requiring extra expensive roadbed.

Eager to hook states on higher spending, especially for high-speed rail, the Obama administration wants California to quickly spend $3.3 billion of federal funding (much of it borrowed from China, one source of Barack Obama's train envy). Simitian says the $3.3 billion is about 5 percent of the cost “if the project stays on budget.” If. The $3.3 billion and $2.7 billion of state money would finance 130 miles of track in the Central Valley — a train from, and to, nowhere.

Simitian notes that the 130 miles would not be high-speed rail and would not be electrified, and that there are no commitments for more federal funds, or for any dedicated funding source, or for private funding. And the 2008 ballot measure that launched this folly forbids tax money for operating subsidies.



Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Oklahoma man gets consecutive 20-year terms for rapes of intellectually challenged classmates
  2. 2
    Angels won't cap former OU pitcher Garrett Richards' innings
  3. 3
    McDonald's Allegedly Fires Mom Whose Daughter Played Outside While She Worked
  4. 4
    Verizon: We track you, you get free stuff
  5. 5
    Is this Apple's new iWatch?
+ show more