A Dec. 14 editorial in The Bee called our expressed concerns regarding the viability and cost of California's high-speed rail project "baffling." While we welcome a public debate over the merits of high-speed rail, our position is hardly "baffling" it reflects the concerns of our local communities and constituents.
Over the past few years, as the business plan has inflated and funding estimates have swollen, the most recent plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has been panned across the board by economic and transportation experts alike. The California state auditor said the plan was "increasingly risky." The Peer Group given the specific task of reviewing the project advised the Legislature against approving funding for construction, deeming the business model incomplete. The Legislative Analyst's Office had similar concerns.
The most recent cost estimate of high-speed rail in California comes in at nearly $70 billion. That number shifted from $33 billion in 2008 to $98.5 billion in 2011, and the project's completion date keeps getting pushed into the future. The High-Speed Rail Authority estimates between 29.6 million and 43.9 million riders per year in 2040. In 2011, Amtrak reported it had over 30 million passengers nationally its highest total ever. When you look at the actual numbers, only a fraction of that number take a train or a plane in our area currently. Do we really believe that California alone will surpass current estimates nationally?
Just as disconcerting is the project's funding really, the lack thereof.
A high-speed rail project this elaborate requires known and reliable funding sources, and both private and public investment in order to construct and operate it. When this plan was sold to Californians, we were told the private sector would invest in it because this project would be profitable. Private investment will always seek a good opportunity, and the absence of any committed private funding in this case should be a red flag that this project is simply not a good investment.
The current plan at the smallest level asks for another $38 billion from the federal government. This past year alone, California's deficit soared to $16 billion, the federal government has run over $1 trillion deficits for the past four years, and the national debt continues to exceed $16 trillion. We believe it is unrealistic for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to expect to receive even a fraction of the federal funds it is relying on to complete this project.
Rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole, we believe it is time to cut our losses and focus on deficit reduction and improving current infrastructure. Californians expect us to get our fiscal house in order. Few things could baffle California taxpayers more than continuing to throw billions of dollars at a Field of Dreams-type project, potentially leaving all of us on the hook for a bad investment and saddling our future generations with the burden of paying off the costs of constructing and operating high-speed rail.