The California High-Speed Rail Authority has a serious public-relations hurdle: how to sell its proposed Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train without the word “boondoggle” attached.
But the rail authority’s latest compromise plan to solve this problem — with its focus on building the system in a “better, faster, cheaper” manner — not only doesn’t fix the system’s fundamental flaws, it may plant the seeds of its destruction.
In November 2008, California voters — notorious for approving huge spending projects, regardless of the state’s budget problems — approved Proposition 1A, which earmarked almost $10 billion in general-obligation bonds to build a comprehensive rail system whose cost was estimated at the time at $35 billion to $42 billion.
Budget estimates have since soared to $98 billion, and efforts have focused on a “let’s just get started” route linking two lower-density cities in the state’s Central Valley, Fresno and Bakersfield. But rail advocates sold the public on Asian-style bullet trains as way to connect Southern California to Bay Area metropolises, not as a “train to nowhere,” as it has been called, in the state’s agricultural heartland.
Furthermore, funding for the system became even less believable after Congress killed the Obama administration’s rail plan, which would have sent a few billion dollars toward California.