January 17 2017
With Elaine Chao gliding towards confirmation as transportation secretary, the Wall Street Journal suggests this morning (in an editorial headlined "California's Big Dig") that an early action should be to put an end an extremely costly boondoggle: California's beleaguered bullet train.
In 2011, when the California high-speed rail train became a dream of the Obama administration, economics writer Robert Samuelson described it as "a fast track to government waste." He said that high-speed rail would dwarf the small drain represented by Amtrak's billions of dollars of taxpayer support.
The Wall Street Journal notes that that Los Angeles Times reported last week that the first 118-mile segment likely will run 50% over budget, citing a confidential internal Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) risk analysis. The report also indicated that several deadlines will be missed.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration several years ago gave the state $3.2 billion for a 500-mile stretch between San Francisco and Anaheim. No work has been done on this segment.
The voters of California approved $10 billion in state bonds in 2008 for the project, which was then estimated at the now-absurdly low price of $64 billion. But never mind: this money is tied in litigation. The Obama administration consistently has relaxed deadlines to keep the rail project alive. Indeed, some of the spending is merely to spend money to give the (false) impression that the rail is still on track.
The Journal editorial summarizes:
The Trump Administration can stop the federal cash advances, which are merely encouraging the rail authority to burn through funds to meet spending deadlines. This may also be contributing to cost overruns. Why should national taxpayers pay for a boondoggle that California’s liberal legislators won’t?
Moreover: in car-crazy California, just how many people would take the bullet train?
Progressives, who tend to believe that cars are bad, may believe that the train would retrain travel habits, encouraging Californians to leave the car at home. This is likely an expensive attempt at social engineering that would fail.