Sac Bee Suggests Quick Path Forward for HSR
The Sacramento Bee editorial board remains supportive of the high speed rail project. As with this blog, they believe that the project should not be delayed and that it ought to continue to move forward. Earlier this week they suggested a quick path to get the bonds authorized and spent:
Why did the CHSRA seek authority for the full $8.6 billion approved by voters in 2008, instead of amounts needed for the first phase of work? It is understandable that the CSHRA would want to authorize bonds once instead of having opponents challenge every authorization.
Why not simply authorize the $4.7 billion amount in Senate Bill 1029, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2012? That would provide the $2.6 billion to complete the initial segment in the Central Valley – plus funds to connect existing rail with high-speed rail and work on the bookends in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Judge Kenny made it clear in an earlier ruling on high-speed rail that Proposition 1A left the question of whether to make an appropriation based on the funding plan “to the Legislature’s collective judgment” and did not give the courts authority to “interfere with that exercise of judgment.” The $4.7 billion path is clear. The aim should be bond issuances in the spring and fall of 2014.
The Sac Bee also points out that spring 2014 is still a realistic scenario given that it actually won’t require all that much work by the California High Speed Rail Authority to address Judge Kenny’s ruling:
The judge ruled in one case that the CSHRA has to “rescind its approval” of the 2011 funding plan. [CHSRA CEO Jeff] Morales expects to have a new draft in the next few weeks that will identify the funding sources for the high-speed rail backbone in the Central Valley, connecting with BNSF tracks at each end – not just the first 29 miles.
The CSHRA also will need to have environmental approvals in hand for that Central Valley backbone, not just the first 29 miles. The CSHRA expects approvals by spring.
So it looks as if the Authority will be in a position to quickly address both rulings and keep the project on track in 2014. That’s good news. I still believe that California would do well to begin planning a new way to fund the entire project that does not rely on further federal funding, and perhaps that’s what Morales has in mind. But it does appear that the hopes of the anti-HSR forces that this ruling will be some sort of death blow to the project are going to be dashed. That’s something for which we can give thanks.
The Bee editorial also closes with a couple points worth considering:
We all need to remember that no mega-projects are funded all at once. Morales points out that the last big highway project in California – the 210 in the Los Angeles area – was planned in the 1940s, commissioned in the 1950s and built in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The last segment opened in 2007.
In California, we make infrastructure projects difficult with laws and initiatives that opponents can use to deliver “golden spikes” into any project they oppose.
The judge’s ruling will slow the project, making it more expensive, but it is not a golden spike.
It’s definitely true that it takes decades to build major infrastructure in California. But it shouldn’t. With an economic, environmental, and energy crisis all threatening our future, we have no room for delay. We need to find better ways to get important sustainable infrastructure projects built fast, without compromising labor or environmental standards.
The Bee’s close to their editorial, then, is almost certainly a call for revising the California Environmental Quality Act. I’m not sure there’s any appetite for that in Sacramento right now given the bruising battle that took place earlier this year over reforms. But at some point we will need to develop a better way to protect the environment without those protections being used to undermine sustainable projects.
One might also note that the 210 freeway was planned and its first stages were built before the passage of CEQA. The completion of the 210 freeway was delayed after the early 1970s not because of CEQA but because Governor Jerry Brown began cutting funding for freeway projects, and it was completed only after San Bernardino County voters approved Measure I in 1989. I’m supportive of the right kind of CEQA reform, but I do think that ultimately better funding for sustainable infrastructure (and no, freeways don’t count as that) is the key to getting these things done quickly.