Quick Takes On Today’s HSR Stimulus Announcement
While we celebrate the announcement of HSR stimulus funds for California and debate its implications, HSR critics are still getting their ideas into the state’s media. Below are some reactions to today’s HSR stimulus announcement, but first have a look at yours truly explaining to Central Coast TV viewers tonight the meaning of the HSR sitmulus.
The LA Times gives some space to HSR critics Richard Tolmach and Alan Lowenthal:
“There are lots of complications that need to be worked out before they can build,” said Richard Tolmach, director of the California Rail Foundation. “They haven’t determined the right of way between San Jose and Gilroy. Service doesn’t look feasible in the Central Valley. The L.A. to Anaheim route is pretty challenged.”
This is all nonsense and distortions of the truth that the LA Times should have fact-checked before publishing. Service absolutely looks feasible in the Central Valley; Tolmach is just making shit up here. He doesn’t explain what the challenges are with the LA-Anaheim route. One would think he’d be pleased that non-HSR passenger rail got $100 million in funds.
Worse is Alan Lowenthal:
State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who has presided over six hearings into the high-speed rail project as chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, is a supporter of the proposal. However, he also said there are significant financial and planning hurdles.
Lowenthal contends that the project’s ridership and cost forecasts, which have changed repeatedly, might be unreliable and he questioned whether the authority could secure enough money to complete construction as scheduled.
“How are they going to go from $6 [billion] to $7 billion in funding to $42 billion?” Lowenthal asked. “How are they going to attract private investors? How do they expect to get $17 billion to $19 billion, as they have said, from the feds?”
But Lowenthal here, as at the Palo Alto hearing last week, has been completely unable to actually explain in any detail what is wrong with the ridership studies. He just asserts there’s something wrong without proving it, which is nonsense. As to the costs, he’s being willfully ignorant here, misstating the amount of funding HSR has – it’s actually $11.25 billion – and playing dumb when it comes to the federal funding issue, not acknowledging that there’s $2.5 billion in the current fiscal year budget, a jobs bill likely to include some more HSR funds, an unfinished transportation bill also likely to include HSR funds, and a proposed National Infrastructure Bank that would further fund HSR. Lowenthal could, you know, just call up Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer if he were worried about this.
Meanwhile the San Jose Mercury-News offers some interesting views on what should be done with the funds:
“I would like to see this additional funding dedicated to a tunnel under San Jose,” said John Urban, president of the Newhall Neighborhood Association, which represents 1,600 residents near the proposed rail corridor. “This would preserve the character of downtown and our adjacent neighborhoods.”
Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Sure, a tunnel could happen, but not with these funds. The stimulus funds are going to the core elements of the project, not necessarily to something like a tunnel in San Jose. If that tunnel is to be funded, local sources will likely be required.
Of course, the Peninsula HSR critics took their shots at the stimulus, suggesting that the aesthetic concerns of prosperous homeowners took precedence over the desperate need for jobs for working-class residents in their communities:
Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt called the new construction timeline “very optimistic.” Like others, he said he’s concerned that the state won’t give cities and residents enough time to scrutinize what is being called the biggest infrastructure project in the nation.
Of course, Burt was on the Palo Alto city council in 2008 when it unanimously endorsed Prop 1A. Cities and residents have had plenty of time to scrutinize the project, and will have almost all of 2010 to work through the upcoming draft alternatives analysis, not to mention the fact that a lot of time was spent in 2009 debating this issue as well. I’m all for a thorough planning process, but at some point decisions have to be made and steel put in the ground. When the state’s economic recovery is on the line, it’s reasonable to tell Palo Alto that we’ll give them plenty of time to look the details over and give their input, but we’re not going to wait around forever.
But why let the critics have the last word? Here are some comments from HSR backers:
“Finally, finally, finally — it’s going to happen,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who pushed for bullet trains 20 years ago in her failed gubernatorial bid.
The trains will revitalize how Californians travel, officials said.
“Once the projects are completed, the high-speed corridors would allow travel between Riverside and Los Angeles in just 33 minutes,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. From Los Angeles, riders could be in Sacramento in two hours and 17 minutes, she said.
While the funding amounts to about half of the state’s $4.7 billion request, Boxer said the Obama administration had to spread the money out to ensure enough political support to keep high-speed rail projects going.
LaHood and Boxer both said they are optimistic about California receiving more federal funds for high-speed rail.
“This is a project of national significance and, therefore, they’re going to have high priority and they’re going to become part of our funding process,” Boxer said.
Our federal representatives helped make these stimulus funds possible, and for that we thank them. At least for today. Tomorrow, we tell them to get back to work and ensure that we have a stable, long-term source of HSR funding so that days like today become routine over the coming decade.