Tuesday, November 15, 2011

High Speed Rail: A $98 Billion Infrastructure Boondoggle with No Place to Go

For people of limited economic imagination, like our Governor, massive public infrastructure projects are the key to turning the tide of California's economic misfortune. And they don't come much more massive than the High Speed Rail project. Sadly, practical reality has proven to be a more determined opponent of the project than any politician. And the news has only gotten worse in recent days.

A new and sizable problem for the High Speed Rail Authority emerged yesterday, this time from an unlikely source: San Jose. According to the Mercury News, HRSA has determined that its plan to run an underground tunnel from the south into Diridon Station isn't going to work. Basically, the poor soil in the area means they can't run the train through a shallow tunnel, but the high groundwater means a deeper tunnel isn't going to work either. As a result, the Rail Authority wants to pursue other options; these include running new tracks along the ground into the station, or else building a giant concrete structure to carry the trains above the city. San Jose hates the first alternative, insofar as it's eyeing the land HRSA would need for a new baseball stadium that may one day be home to the A's, and it hates the second option because it would create horrible blight in an area the city's spent millions trying to redevelop. This news will doubtless be music to the ears of homeowners along the San Francisco Peninsula, who continue to oppose HRSA's plan to run the train through their backyards up to the city. Importantly, it's a big blow to any plan to connect the rail line directly to San Francisco: any other plan would almost certainly require the construction of a new bridge spanning the Bay.

The second bad piece of news to hit HRSA comes from Kings County, where the construction is supposed to start. This small county in the Central Valley is reportedly suing HRSA to halt the ground-breaking. This is, of course, less than surprising, insofar as the county filed a motion with the Federal Railroad Administration in August, asking DC to reject HRSA's environmental impact statement. This time, Kings County is arguing that California can't legally spend $2.7 billion in taxpayer money because, essentially, things have changed. Their argument is that the projected costs have ballooned, and the sources of funding have dried up to such an extent that only a fraction of the proposed project can actually be built. Of course, this isn't the only lawsuit HRSA is facing over its plans for the line, but it seems likely that construction will have to wait until this latest suit is resolved.


  1. Yes, this is music to the ears of a resident of Morgan Hill. This whole HSR project is disgusting and a sham.
    I have been a big fan of SJ mayor Chuck Reed, usually a business-like level-headed guy. So his support for this is puzzling.

  2. Yeah, Reed is better than most. My guess is that he's worried about ruffling too many feathers in his party; the Dem establishment in the state is not happy with him over his pension reform plan. And let's face it, California Dems have put all their eggs in the basket of the HSR project.


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