California HSR 2016 Election Preview

Nov 7th, 2016 | Posted by

The 2016 election will be pivotal for the future of California’s high speed rail project. Here’s what you need to watch for on election night in terms of impact on HSR:

Who wins the White House? Barack Obama has been every bit the friend of HSR we hoped he’d be back in 2008. Although Donald Trump has occasionally said decent things about HSR and federal infrastructure spending, you shouldn’t believe a word of it. If he wins, and if Congress stays in GOP hands, they’ll unleash a further and deeper attack on HSR. But if Hillary Clinton wins, she can be expected to continue supporting HSR – and potentially promoting massive new federal infrastructure investment that could help HSR.

Who controls Congress? When Republicans seized control of the House in 2010, it put a halt to any hope of new federal HSR funding. Democrats are in a good position to take control of the US Senate. The House is a longer shot, but Democrats could make big gains there this year. If Democrats take the White House and the Senate, at minimum, it would bode well for a federal infrastructure spending deal – perhaps via an infrastructure bank. Obama and Joe Biden have previously suggested an infrastructure bank could help fund HSR.

If Democrats do make gains in Congress, many of the pickups could come in California, where the Republican Party faces an extinction-level event due to a massive voter registration surge and widespread voter dislike of Trump and his party. Here are the key Congressional races being fought in California:

• CA-10: I would love nothing more than to see Jeff Denham finally lose. He supported HSR in the State Senate, then flipped and opposed it in the US House. He’s been a major thorn in the side of HSR and getting rid of him would be a big boost to HSR’s fortunes. Democrat Michael Eggman stands a good chance of winning here.

• CA-21: David Valadao has also been an important anti-HSR voice in the Valley, even though his constituents desperately need the clean air and jobs it would bring. Emilio Huerta is running a strong campaign against Valadao and a voter turnout surge could lift him to victory.

• CA-49: Darrell Issa has also worked to undermine HSR, holding hearings designed to make HSR look bad. He is facing an extremely strong challenge from Democrat Doug Applegate, and polling has shown this race to be very close.

• Democrats also have a shot at winning CA-25, with Bryan Caforio running against incumbent Steve Knight. If the California Republicans face a Trumpocalypse, they could also lose CA-39 (Ed Royce) and maybe even CA-48 (Dana Rohrabacher).

Will Democrats regain supermajorities in Sacramento? Control of the state Legislature is not in doubt. Republicans have not held majorities in both houses since 1970. But Democrats stand a chance of winning a 2/3 supermajority in both houses, though the path is slightly easier in the Assembly than in the Senate. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a caucus of moderate Democrats in the Assembly who are not necessarily friends of HSR, though they’re less likely to want to kill it than are Republicans.

The path to a renewed Democratic supermajority runs through six Assembly seats in SoCal, including AD-65, where Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is trying to reclaim the seat that Republican Young Kim took from her in 2014. In the Bay Area, Republican Catherine Baker – who also won for the first time in 2014 – is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio. There are also key intraparty battles among Democrats, such as Karina Cervantez Alejo vs. Anna Caballero in AD-30 in the Salinas Valley and Eloise Gomez Reyez vs. Cheryl Brown in AD-47 in San Bernardino, as well as Bill Dodd vs. Mariko Yamada in SD-3 and Jane Kim vs. Scott Weiner in SD-11.

Will Proposition 53 fail? Gov. Jerry Brown has put his popularity on the line to stop this bad initiative. Will he prevail?

Will voters pass local rail funding initiatives? The Bay Area is voting on Measure RR to finally invest in desperately needed maintenance for BART, and LA is voting on Measure M to finally fund a massive expansion of Metro Rail. Both initiatives face opposition from corporate centrists (like State Sen. Steve Glazer) and from anti-tax Republicans. Someday, future generations will look back on people like Sen. Glazer and shake their heads at the penny-pinching shortsightedness that has kept California stuck in traffic, stuck in smog, and stuck with high CO2 emissions.

Some of these races may not be decided on election night. And California’s glacial pace of counting ballots means some races and propositions may not be decided until nearly Thanksgiving. LA County’s previous rail funding initiative, Measure J, just barely failed to reach the 66.7% mark in 2012, a result that took days to determine.

And once this is done, the real fun begins: the 2018 election cycle and the battle to succeed Jerry Brown!

HSR Notes from the Around the World

Nov 4th, 2016 | Posted by

As Election Day in the USA draws near (and I’ll have a preview of what it might mean for HSR on Monday), let’s take a look around the world at what’s going on with high speed rail:

• HSR supporters and opponents debate in Texas, proving that having a privately funded system doesn’t insulate an HSR project from the same BS arguments used against publicly funded rail.

• Israel’s Minister of Transportation proposes an HSR line from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’s old city, cutting travel time to just 30 minutes.

• Liverpool gets a preview of HS3, which would be built as a spur off the main HS2 line from London to the Midlands. Construction on HS2 is slated to begin, at long last, in 2017.

• GeorgiaDOT proposes three routes to connect Atlanta to Chattanooga with high speed rail. A route along I-75 seems the most logical and direct.

Jerry Brown Steps Up Campaign Against Prop 53

Oct 28th, 2016 | Posted by

Governor Jerry Brown is one of the most popular governors in recent memory. But he doesn’t lend that prestige often. When he does, it can have a significant impact on voter choices. That’s why this new ad from Gov. Brown against Proposition 53 is so important – and the ad itself is a devastating attack on this destructive initiative:

Prop 53 is expected to be a close vote. There’s been no public polling yet, but reports indicate that private polling shows Prop 53 barely hovering above the 50% mark, with plenty of undecided voters.

Thus, a Jerry Brown attack ad like this could be just the thing needed to convince undecided voters and many voters leaning yes to turn against this and send it down to defeat. Let’s hope that’s what happens.

Hyperloop Expected to Cost Far More than Originally Stated

Oct 27th, 2016 | Posted by

This shouldn’t come as any surprise, but the latest financial disclosure documents show that the estimated cost of the Hyperloop has soared. It’s further indication this thing is not ready for prime time and surely is not any kind of substitute for high speed rail:

In his 2013 paper that set the tech world abuzz with the promise of high-speed travel via vacuum tubes, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Musk projected a Hyperloop route from Los Angeles to the Bay Area would cost as little as $6 billion, or $11.5 million per mile, far less than the cost of high-speed rail. But Hyperloop One estimates for many projects are significantly higher, based on a promotional document for potential investors and real estate developers updated in July and in circulation this October, the authenticity of which was confirmed by the company. At the top of the range: a 107-mile loop around the Bay Area alone—either by tunnel or a mix of tunnel and elevated track—would cost between $9 billion and $13 billion, or between $84 million and $121 million per mile.

The article notes that current estimates for California high speed rail are $123 million per mile, so this cost for the Hyperloop is now approaching or already at the CA HSR cost projection.

Another interesting tidbit is Hyperloop advocates now recognize that, as this blog has been saying for years, the obstacles to connecting LA and SF with fast trains are political:

Nowhere is Musk’s Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor mentioned. Asked whether Musk was overly optimistic with his initial projections, Lloyd replied, “I have a huge amount of respect for Elon Musk.” He said Hyperloop One isn’t interested in that route for the near term due to a “very complicated political environment.” “We do think the first routes, in the next three to four years, will be shorter and will be in important corridors.”

When Musk first unveiled the Hyperloop, he and the media both sold it as better than HSR, assuming that the problems the CHSRA faces were of their own making. But now it’s clear that they were not. Building an intercity rail project in California is an inherently expensive undertaking that is made more challenging by persistent anti-rail bias on the part of some local elected officials and by most in the media.

I won’t gloat at seeing the Hyperloop experience the same challenges. This just goes to show the problems that do exist are not made by the CHSRA nor are they inherent to HSR. We need to make it much easier to build rail in this country, and we need to find ways to overcome the backward-looking folks who continue to deny the need to build more rail.