CA Rail: Funded But With Nowhere To Go?

After a much heralded vote on July 6 in the state Senate, the embattled CA high-speed rail project is now eligible to receive $7.9 billion in state and federal funds, but formidable obstacles remain, not the least of which is finding $60 billion.
July 10, 2012, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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In light of last week's milestone vote to approve the issuance of $4.6 billion in state bond funds, the rhetoric supporting and spurning California's high-speed rail project has exploded across the Internet.

Pointing to uncertainties over future funding and pending litigation, particularly in the Central Valley where farmers are organizing to halt the looming train project, Jim Carlton and Max Taves report in The Wall Street Journal that it may be premature to celebrate the advancement of the country's costliest infrastructure project.

"The farm bureaus in Merced and Madera counties (in the Central Valley) in June filed suit in state Superior Court in Sacramento asking a judge to nullify an environmental-impact report the rail authority certified as one of the final steps toward breaking ground on a 60-mile stretch between Merced and Fresno. Among their concerns: that the rail line would disrupt about 1,500 acres of farmland by cutting off irrigation canals and generating too much wind from passing trains for bee pollination."

"Dan Richard, chairman of the rail authority, said the project would minimize disruption to farms but added that far less land would be taken away from agriculture than has happened from urban development by cities like Fresno."

"The other challenge, longer term, is fully funding a project that is estimated to cost $68.4 billion, rail observers say. Congressional Republicans have already expressed resistance in funding high-speed rail across the country, while some California politicians on both sides of the aisle question if the cash-strapped state can keep coming up with money to match federal funds.

In his floor speech Friday against the funding bill, Democratic state Sen. Joe Simitian said the money being allocated represents a fraction of what the state would have to put up over time. "We're expected to put up 20 times that over the course of who knows how many years," said Mr. Simitian, who was one of four Democrats to vote against the bill."

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Political Diary writer Allysia Finley suggests that Bay Area and Los Angeles region senators were bought off with "$2 billion of funding for regional rail projects, including $700 million to bail out, er, modernize Silicon Valley's insolvent Caltrain."

Meanwhile, in The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe rebuffs the argument made by project detractors that no one will ride the train once it's completed. Jaffe points to examples of high-speed rail driven travel demand from around the world that he argues bodes well for California's potential ridership.

And in The Architect's Newspaper, David Herd delivers his full-throated backing of the project, asserting that, "high-speed rail presents a critical opportunity for California, one that will catalyze an economically, socially, and ecologically vital future for the state."

Editor's note: Links to Wall Street Journal may be time-limited without subscription.

Thanks to The Roundup

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, July 8, 2012 in The Wall Street Journal
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