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.

CHSRA Proposes Revisions to 2016 Business Plan

Apr 21st, 2016 | Posted by

After hearing public feedback on the draft 2016 Business Plan, the California High Speed Rail Authority is making some revisions to the Business Plan, including building tracks to Merced:

• Merced. The city had been omitted from the initial operating segment (IOS) in the February plan after being part of the IOS in previous business plans. The staff recommended building what amounts to a single-track spur from the main San Jose-Fresno line at first so that trains can run between San Jose and Merced when service begins in 2025. The single-track line would become part of the double-track “wye” that is part of the full build-out of the San Francisco-Anaheim Phase 1 of the high-speed system scheduled for 2029. The full wye — a Y-shaped track intersection — will also allow trains to run south from Merced down the main valley line. In addition, the revision would place a new station in Madera, adding ridership from two markets to San Jose-bound trains.

• Bakersfield. The city was also cut from the IOS when this year’s plan shifted from linking the San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles and instead linked it to San Jose and the Bay Area. The draft plan proposed a temporary southern terminus in the small town of Shafter, north of Bakersfield, because the authority says it doesn’t currently have funds to get to Bakersfield. Absent additional funding that would pay for high-speed tracks all the way to the city, the authority will now explore making a temporary southern terminus at Wasco, which is farther north from Bakersfield but offers a connection to existing Amtrak service to the city.

The CHSRA also intends to spend $4 billion on various HSR improvements in Southern California, to assuage concerns that building a Northern IOS would leave LA out in the cold.

You can read the full list of recommended changes here. Because the Authority must submit the Business Plan to the Legislature by May 1, there isn’t much time to submit comments on this new proposal. But you can do so in the following ways:

1. Online comment form through the Draft 2016 Business Plan website at:
http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/Business_Plans/Draft_2016_Business_Plan_Comments.html

2. By email at: 2016businessplancomments@hsr.ca.gov

3. By U.S. mail to the Authority:

California High-Speed Rail Authority
Attn: Draft 2016 Business Plan
770 L Street, Suite 620 MS-1
Sacramento, CA 95814

4. Voice mail comment at: (916) 384-9516

The CHSRA Can’t Fund HSR All By Itself

Apr 19th, 2016 | Posted by

The Los Angeles Times has a new editorial asking Who is going to pay for the bullet train to LA? That’s a reasonable question to ask. But why is it that only the California High Speed Rail Authority has to answer it?

But left unsaid in the draft 2016 business plan is how exactly the authority will get the money to build the bullet train to Southern California….

But the plan doesn’t explain how the authority will come up with the estimated $43.5 billion needed to construct the rail line from the Central Valley to Los Angeles and ultimately Anaheim, which it had planned to do by 2029. High-speed rail officials have said it’s common practice to break ground on major transportation projects without every dollar of construction costs accounted for. Yet most transportation projects aren’t fraught with the complexity and political baggage of the bullet train….

The authority has to do a better job demonstrating that high-speed rail isn’t an “if” but a “when.” Are the funding challenges insurmountable? Not necessarily. But the High Speed Rail Authority has to lay out an honest analysis of the challenges ahead and reasonable options for building the bullet train all the way to Los Angeles. That is, after all, what Californians thought they would be getting when they voted for the project.

I can see where the Times is coming from here, but the problem is that they’re asking the wrong people. The CHSRA doesn’t actually have the ability to do anything more than lay out ideas, since all of the options are outside their control.

They can mention federal funding, but that depends on Democrats retaking Congress – and coming through with a long-term funding source.

They can mention more state funding, including cap-and-trade, but that depends on what state legislators in Sacramento decide.

They can mention private funding, which is reasonable and is going to materialize once an Initial Operating Segment is in place, but that’s still up to private investors.

The CHSRA was set up to oversee the construction of a high speed rail system, but doesn’t have the power to generate its own revenue. That was a mistake. The legislature ought to fix that.

Instead, an Assembly committee passed a bill that would require the CHSRA to identify funding for each segment:

The bill, AB 2847, adopts two key recommendations by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The measure would require the rail authority to provide detailed cost, schedule and scope information about each segment and to disclose how each of those segments would be financed.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, who said the project was rushing ahead without a sustainable plan that would ensure completion by the scheduled 2029 start-up for trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

This is backward. It should be the Legislature’s job to identify this funding. Not the Authority’s – unless the Legislature plans to give the Authority the, well, authority to generate its own revenue.

Legislators who backed this bill are acting as if the high speed rail project is some random side thing that somehow they’re not responsible for in any way. That’s absurd. The Legislature created the CHSRA in 1996. They put Proposition 1A on the ballot in 2008. They have repeatedly authorized funding for the project, whether it’s releasing the Prop 1A bonds or delivering cap-and-trade revenues to HSR.

If this bill passes – and that’s a big if, given that it still has to pass the whole Assembly, the whole Senate, and get Governor Jerry Brown’s signature – the CHSRA should respond by telling the Legislature “we intend to fund each segment by coming to you and getting the money from you, because this is your project as much as it is ours.”

Assembly Kills Four Republican Bills Attacking HSR

Apr 13th, 2016 | Posted by

Except for a short interlude in 1995-96 when they had a one seat majority, Republicans have been in the minority in the Assembly for nearly 50 years. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. And so there’s never any real danger of Republicans being able to pass anti-high speed rail legislation through the legislature – but it hasn’t stopped them from trying:

Among the bills heard yesterday were attempts by Republicans to stop California’s high-speed rail project (CAHSR). These bring the total to eleven such efforts, according to Keith Dunn, a consultant for the Association for California High-Speed Trains, who testified at the hearing. These bills, like earlier similar bills, received few votes. They may well crop up again, but for now they are dead in the water.

This time around the anti-high-speed rail bills were:

A.B. 1717: Since the High-Speed Rail Authority changed its plans and decided to build towards the Bay Area first, rather than to L.A., Assemblymember David Hadley (R-Torrance) proposed that CAHSR’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund money be taken away and given to other rail projects.

A.B. 1768: High-speed rail is a waste of money and the bonds currently used for it should be used instead to repair roads and highways, said Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Plumas Lake).

A.B. 2049: Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) wrote pretty much the same bill as Gallagher’s.

A.B. 1866: Assemblymember Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) wants the high-speed rail bonds to be taken away and spent on water projects.

That last bill is a version of the recently withdrawn ballot proposition that would also have taken HSR money and used it for water projects. No surprise that the bill didn’t fare any better than the initiative did.

HSR still has a long way to go to being fully funded and completed, but at least it doesn’t have to worry about these destructive Republican bills ever becoming law.