Gov. Jerry Brown’s most formidable opponent as he heads into his 2014 re-election campaign may be the high-speed rail project that he has enthusiastically supported. Republicans have warned for years that the cost of the train, which aims to reduce ground travel time from San Francisco to Los Angeles to 2 hours and 40 minutes (as opposed to 6 hours by car and 1 hour by air), would exceed estimates. Now there are even bigger problems.
As Adam Nagourney of the New York Times recounted Monday, a state court ruling in November barred the state from using $8.6 billion in bonds to finance the project because it remains unclear how the rest of the $86 billion cost will be paid. Federal funds of $3 billion are now at risk, environmental assessment deadlines loom, and polls show that a majority of California voters want the flagship “green” project canceled entirely.
At present, the state has no direct passenger rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Amtrak line stops short of San Francisco itself, terminating in San Jose, from which bus links and other options connect to San Francisco itself. That rail line, like most of Amtrak’s lines, remains unprofitable and relies on subsidies to maintain its operations. Tourists also prefer the scenic coastal highway, which they can drive at their own pace.
States that elected Republican governors in 2010 often rejected high-speed rail, even at the cost of losing federal funds and fighting then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who sought to impose President Barack Obama’s “green” agenda. Gov. Brown, in contrast, embraced the idea. Yet the project’s high costs, complex environmental challenges and administrative problems are in many ways the archetype of liberal policy failure.