Tuesday, August 9, 2011

High Speed Rail Getting No Love from Kings County, or Financial Reality

It's becoming a hobby of ours to catalog the comedy of errors known as California's High Speed Rail project, but we'll give the Rail Authority credit for persistence: no matter how many obstacles fiscal and practical reality seem to throw at the project, HRSA seems determined to start building the train no matter how many people tell them not to. So, it might not matter, but they got two more pieces of bad news today, both related to the project's initial "train to nowhere" phase.

First off, a new internal audit by HRSA has updated the estimated cost of the first segment, running from the tiny Kings County town of Corcoran, home to the prison housing Charles Manson and little else, to the equally tiny town of Borden, near Fresno. Apparently, building this 65 miles of high speed track will cost somewhere between $10 billion and $13.9 billion, a sizable jump from 2009's estimate of $7 billion. While this should surprise no one familiar with the track record of, well, all massive public works projects in the history of government, numerous lawmakers are upset about it. Long Beach state Senator Alan Lowenthal has said he'd support taking the project offline and returning federal funds if HRSA doesn't have answers when it presents its business plan in October. Which should be an interesting meeting, since all signs point to HRSA not having even a suggestion of a business plan.

Second, the Orange County Register reports that the "train to nowhere" may also be facing a significant problem from the Kings County Board of Supervisors: the board has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to deny approval to HRSA's environmental impact statement. Their complaint is a familiar one among rail opponents in rural parts of California: they accuse the rail authority of shutting the county out of the planning process, and proposing to run its trains through prime farmland rather than using existing rights of way. If the federal government agrees with the county, HRSA would be prohibited from spending a large chunk of their funding for the project.


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