If you’re wondering why political deadlock runs rampant in California, it’s because politicians often find reasons to divide themselves on issues that don’t require debate. There are instances when issues warrant partisan disagreements, but if there’s one proposition that does not, it’s high-speed rail.
Our state is in a dire position in which too much money is being spent on construction and too little natural resources are left to assist the burgeoning needs for completion of the project. It’s why many Democrats who initially supported the rail are rescinding their support, and why many Republicans, environmentalists and government agencies pointed out from the start the absurdity of the project.
In 2008, 53 percent of Californian voters passed a proposition to create the high-speed rail, also known as the bullet train. The California High Speed Rail Authority was granted the $10 billion bond for “specific construction projects with private and public matching funds required.” At the time, the idea for the creation of the high-speed rail was met with adequate concern, but not enough to generate any significant oversight. Costs for the project were projected to be around $33 billion, which is now less than half of the current estimate.
But since then, priorities in California have shifted. Seven years later and the state is facing a severe drought, with extreme water shortages and rain shortfalls for several counties, specifically in the Central Valley. In lieu of these events, Gov. Jerry Brown has called for even more stringent environmental policy — including additional regulations, such as Assembly Bill 52, in the California Environmental Quality Act last year.
Brown’s desire to create stringent environmental policy, however, now has constituents wondering why he would do so when he fails to maintain these requirements for his own widely supported project: HSR.
A Golden State poll created by the Hoover Institution recently found that 53 percent of California voters would vote in favor of a bill that required plans to halt HSR in its entirety and to use rollover funds for water-storage projects and the like. Two of the 12 construction sites with technical memorandums refer to outdated facts and figures. When these memos were created, the water shortage was not the main crisis facing California. But because those figures passed the water conservation policy then, they are not legally required to reassess the sites for construction.
Even more concerning is that what initially persuaded voters — funds from private investors and protection of taxpayer interests — has not materialized. The rapid increase of funds for a large project has dissuaded private investors from contributing and brought serious concern over the lack of oversight this project has received due to pushback from Brown and members of his party.
The bullet train, separated into 12 different sections for construction, promised to complete the Burbank to Merced station by 2022. However, there are several literal roadblocks halting construction for this initial operating segment, including the creation of 36 miles of tunneling through “geologically complex” mountains, implementation of electrical lines and maintenance facilities.
“Crews will have to cross the tectonic boundary that separates the North American and Pacific plates, boring through a jumble of fractured rock formations and a maze of earthquake faults, some of which are not mapped,” the Los Angeles Times said. “It will be the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history.”
And, the L.A. Times is right — it is an overly ambitious project and at this rate, it’s likely that the lack of oversight toward the beginning of the project has directly resulted in burgeoning costs for maintenance and construction of the sites. It’s what keeps state counties, environmentalists, government oversight agencies and legislators up at night. Over the past few years, seven lawsuits have been filed for complaint over the high-speed rail and its violation of CEQA. But several democrats and Gov. Brown’s support for the bullet train has successfully overruled these suits with the help of federal attorneys who claim that the High-Speed Rail authority is only required to follow federal guidelines.
So far, Kern County and and Kings County, in conjunction with other groups, have both filed appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in response to Federal Transportation agreeing that because CEQA was “preempted by federal law.”
The California Senate Transportation Committee is set to conduct legislative oversight hearings on the high-speed rail to discuss heightened costs, estimated time of completion and management.
Sen. James Beall Jr. will lead the hearings and a 2016 business plan that will “lay out the state’s latest vision for how it will fund, build and eventually operate the 22-mph trains,” according to the L.A. Times.
Do California a favor, and help put a stop to the high-speed rail.