Money Woes Plague Transbay Terminal Project

Apr 30th, 2016 | Posted by

It’s been a while since we checked in at the Transbay Terminal project…and, yikes, maybe it’s better if you don’t look.

First up, the Transbay Terminal project faces a $260 million shortfall:

San Francisco’s beleaguered Transbay Transit Center may get a $260 million emergency bailout from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Wells Fargo in order to keep construction on the transit hub going this summer, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The financing would borrow $100 million from the MTC and $160 million from Wells Fargo, to be paid back over five years to 10 years…

“The unusual loan, which would be paid back over the next five to 10 years with taxes collected from developers and property owners in the neighborhood’s burgeoning high-rise district, is proposed as projected costs on the transit center have climbed $360 million in the past two years alone,” the paper reports. “Since 2008, project costs have soared by $1 billion.”

That isn’t the first time the Transbay Terminal has turned to such loans – earlier they got a $171 million bridge loan from the Vampire Squid (aka Goldman Sachs). And while SF real estate seems like a sure thing, using those taxes for Transbay Terminal construction leaves less available for the key part of the project, the downtown rail extension to serve Caltrain and high speed rail.

That matters, because San Francisco leaders are accusing the California High Speed Rail Authority of of shorting them by $1.5 billion for the downtown extension:

The letter, to Chairman Dan Richard and board members, says the city’s Transbay Transit Center’s funding from the High-Speed Rail Authority “will be reduced by $1.5 billion to $550 million,” citing the authority’s recently revised draft 2016 business plan.

The San Francisco officials called the rail agency funding “an integral part” of financing the planned Caltrain/high-speed rail extension to the new transit hub.

The missive, obtained by the Business Times, asks the rail authority to reinstate the funding and make San Francisco, instead of San Jose, the terminus of its initial bullet-train tracks.

But did the Authority ever actually say they were going to spend $2 billion on the DTX in the 2016 Business Plan? According to Lisa Marie Alley, they never did:

A spokeswoman for the CHSRA denied that funding was being cut. A reference to $2 billion in an earlier version of the 2016 business plan was “erroneous,” she said. “Our commitment to the extension remains intact and as it was — for $557 million.”

This whole letter looks to me like SF leaders taking a lesson from the Legislature and trying to blame the Authority for problems outside the Authority’s control.

California remains one of the richest places anywhere on the planet, with a GDP larger than all but six other countries. The state legislature, therefore, has access to trillions of dollars to do things like help finish the Transbay Terminal and the downtown extension and HSR itself.

While it would be good if Congress stepped up and played their part, California can pay for high speed rail all by itself. There’s no reason for the Transbay Terminal to be taking out big loans on Wall Street, or for SF and the CHSRA to be pointing fingers at each other. The legislature needs to lead.

#IWillRide Rally in Fresno

Apr 28th, 2016 | Posted by

This is fantastic:

High Speed Rail may have its detractors but at Fresno City College among the young people who will actually use the service, they are saying, I will ride.

“People in my age group they haven’t seen a lot of investment in the country. A lot of the stuff that is here was already built before we got here. And we kind of take the freeway systems and the highway systems for granted, we don’t second guess the fact that we would use it– and I think that, culturally, that will become common place once High Speed Rail is here,” said Nick Kennedy, Student High Speed Rail Supporter.

Students at Fresno City College organized a High Speed Rail forum on campus yesterday to discuss the benefits of HSR and to make it clear that for the Valley’s young people, the region’s future leaders and builders and doers, HSR is viewed as an essential piece of infrastructure, a vital part of the area’s economic prosperity in the 21st century.

Once HSR is built, people in Fresno will wonder how they ever got by without it.

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Fresno Bee Wishes Its Leaders Would Fight for HSR As Merced Did

Apr 26th, 2016 | Posted by

Yesterday we looked at how Merced’s elected leaders fought to stay in the HSR project as part of the Initial Operating Segment. The Merced Sun-Star and its sister papers, including the Modesto Bee, ran editorials praising those elected leaders for that work.

That caused their colleagues at the Fresno Bee to look on with envy and quite reasonably wish that their own elected officials – particularly their Republican legislators – would do the same and fight hard for HSR funding for Fresno:

If you want to see what real political leadership looks like, head north in the Valley, where it’s on display.

Lawmakers and supervisors in Merced, Modesto and Stockton want to be part of California’s high-speed rail project….

Their logic and their passion for the project were so impressive that the rail authority bought into the idea of the Merced segment.

Now here comes the strong attack on Fresno-area electeds who are opposing HSR:

Now compare the vision and teamwork of those officials to what’s going on in our neck of the Valley.

We are saddled with the likes of Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno, state Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford and Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau, who are doing everything in their power to kill the high-speed rail project.

These three apparently don’t want thousands of well-paying construction and rail system jobs. They apparently don’t want our part of the Valley to quickly connect with the Bay Area. They apparently don’t want Fresno State’s engineering school to become a world leader in high-speed rail.

Their can’t-do attitude, obfuscation and parroted talking points are reminiscent of the infighting and failure to unite that killed any hopes Fresno had of landing the newest University of California campus, which went to Merced.

Patterson, Vidak and Brandau aren’t leaders, they’re followers. Instead of having the courage to stand tall for their region, they pander to those loud voices whose biggest dream is that Fresno turn back the clock to 1950.

Well, the world is moving ahead – with or without Fresno.

The folks up north understand how important high-speed rail is to their future.

Too bad that Patterson, Vidak and Brandau are oblivious to what it means to Fresno.

Ouch. That’s damning. And of course, completely accurate. Patterson, Vidak, and Brandau are just a few of the Republicans in the San Joaquin Valley who have consistently put their own extremist views ahead of what’s best for Fresno, its people, and its future.

California’s unemployment rate is 6.3%, half of what it was at the peak of the recession in early 2010. Fresno, however, still has an unemployment rate of 11.1%. That’s also nearly half of where it peaked, but it’s still much too high. And that unemployment number might well be higher were it not for the HSR project and the economic activity it has created.

The Fresno Bee has its finger on the pulse of the city and the region – as well as its needs for the future. Let’s hope these elected leaders listen to what the editorial board is urging them to do – and focus on getting HSR to Fresno so that it can thrive in the years and decades to come.

Merced Fights for Its Seat on the Bullet Train

Apr 25th, 2016 | Posted by

The Merced Sun-Star Editorial Board tells the story of how local elected officials fought to get Merced back into the Initial Operating Segment – and ensure that nearly 1 million people get access to a fast ride to Silicon Valley:

“I know very few people who commute from Fresno to the Bay Area,” said Adam Gray, who chairs the Assembly select committee on rails. “And people here aren’t going to drive to Fresno just to catch a 40-minute train to work.”

Fortunately, the vote was delayed and that part of the plan was junk-piled, thanks to some tough talk from the Valley’s legislative caucus and county officials.

“John Pedrozo, God bless that guy,” said Stanislaus Supervisor Vito Chiesa. “The way it went, he gets a lot of the credit.” But so should Gray, Sens. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Cathleen Galgiani of Manteca, and others working on the Valley’s behalf.

“People were outraged,” said Gray. “I was outraged. It was totally irresponsible behavior” to eliminate Merced. “They publicly apologized.”

It certainly helps that Assemblymember Gray chairs the Assembly’s rail committee. But it’s not just his leadership, as the editorial makes clear. Sen. Cathleen Galgiani has been a champion for the project since at least 2008, and helped ensure that Merced stayed in the IOS.

And the Sun-Star editorial makes it very clear why this fight matters – and was the right one to wage:

Eliminating Merced would have created a no-man’s land stretching all the way to Modesto. Without high-speed rail and other connections, roughly 1 million people would be living in a forgotten zone with no modern connections to the opportunities being created in Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Fremont – opportunities we desperately need.

Without those connections, we’ll be left begging for scraps – the landfills and prisons usually tossed our way.

For those who live on California’s coasts, the Central Valley may seem like one big no-man’s-land. It’s a heavily populated place, but it is also big, and that’s the point. A station in Fresno doesn’t really benefit people living in Merced or Modesto. The northern San Joaquin Valley has big and growing populations, and most of them work in the Bay Area.

A bullet train that gets from Merced to San José in less than an hour is a game-changer, allowing people to work in the Bay Area while living affordably in Merced – and allowing Merced to bring businesses out to the Valley, where land costs are significantly cheaper.

That’s why Merced has been one of the most consistently supportive communities of HSR anywhere in the state of California. And that’s why the CHSRA was right to put them back in the IOS.