Written by Gordon Webster, Jr.
Last week The Los Angeles times published a bombshell report that most critical high-speed rail observers would find none too surprising — the Central Valley section will cost taxpayers 50 percent more than estimated.
Yup, a cool $3.6 billion more than anticipated.
The LA Times report was based on a confidential Federal Railroad Administration analysis. It also lays out a litany of deadlines and milestones that the project is anticipated to miss.
While high-speed rail officials cautioned the report is only based on projections and estimates, it definitely warrants some scrutiny. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who chairs the House rail subcommittee, pledged to conduct oversight hearings in the near future to head off any future federal funding coming to the project.
State Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) is also renewing calls for Gov. Jerry Brown to conduct an audit of the project — an effort Brown headed off with his veto last year of AB 2847, which would’ve required the California High-Speed Rail Authority to produce an updated business plan every two years.
While those efforts make their way down the line, it may be the new sheriff in town who ultimately has the power to cut the purse strings. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal this week called on President Donald Trump’s Transportation secretary pick, Elaine Chao, to “take the train to Fresno off federal life support.”
As the Journal’s board points out, the Central Valley segment was expected to be the easy part of building the project before it stretches into urban areas and the “geologically complex Tehachapi mountains.”
The Obama administration time and again eased spending and construction deadlines for this boondoggle. Let’s hope Trump and Chao can see through the smoke and mirrors to safeguard taxpayer dollars.