In what should come as no surprise for reasons that I’ll explain in a moment, the completion of construction on the Central Valley portion of the California High Speed Rail project has been delayed by four years to 2022:
The first segment of California’s first-in-the-nation bullet-train project, currently scheduled for completion in 2018, will not be done until the end of 2022, according to a contract revision the Obama administration quietly approved this morning….
State and federal officials downplayed the shift in the timetable, saying it partly reflected more ambitious plans for the Central Valley work, and in any case merely ratified construction realities on the ground. Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said his agency is accelerating its pace after a painfully slow start, with a half dozen construction crews now building overpasses, relocating utilities, and demolishing structures from north of Fresno down to the Bakersfield area.
And what might be causing these delays? It’s a deliberate act of political and timeline sabotage by project opponents who have spent the last 8 years (my god, has it been that long already?) trying to kill a project voters approved:
Federal Railroad Administration officials assigned much of the blame for the lags to the project’s vociferous critics, who have tied it up with a tangle of lawsuits, administrative challenges, and other red tape. They complained that the opponents, especially Central Valley farmers and other not-in-my-back-yard landowners, have gotten far more traction against the railway than they would have against a highway, reflecting a cultural and political bias in favor of traditional asphalt infrastructure. But while they described today’s agreement as a routine bureaucratic clarification, they said they expect an explosive reaction from opponents looking to score political points in Sacramento and Washington.
“We’re just doing due diligence, but everything about California high-speed rail gets magnified and overblown,” said FRA head Sarah Feinberg.
The FRA is absolutely right about this. A highway project would have sailed right through without public opposition and delay. But HSR opponents have used every possible opportunity to delay the project in hopes it will die.
Their greatest success appears to be delaying the process of acquiring right of way, which has set back construction work by several years. Opponents have gone up and down the Valley encouraging property owners to drag this out as long as possible in hopes that HSR will be abandoned. It won’t be, but the result has been further delays that project opponents are gleefully seizing upon to try and prove that somehow the project should be abandoned.
One such opponent is Orange County resident Kevin Drum, who blogs at Mother Jones. Why a progressive publication promotes someone who opposes clean energy infrastructure is beyond me, but here he is, trashing the delay and the project:
By the way, for those of you wondering what “Central Valley” means, it means Bakersfield to Fresno. Exciting, no? The official reason for building this leg first is blah blah blah. The real reason for building it first is to get something—anything—done. Once you’ve got some track laid, it’s really hard to kill the project because, hey, you don’t want all that money to have been wasted, do you?
So for this guy, reducing CO2 emissions and other air pollution in the Central Valley, as well as promoting economic growth in a part of the state with unemployment still above 10%, is just “blah blah blah”? Ridiculous. And short-sighted.
While the delay is annoying, California can look at the El Niño that flopped as a reminder that climate change is here and its impacts on the state are already serious. HSR should have been built 35 years ago, but better late than never.