At a symbolic event designed to extol the merits of his exorbitant $68 billion bullet train that would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles, California Governor Jerry Brown stood in a vacant lot in Fresno and excoriated his critics as cowards, calling them “pusillanimous.”
Although Brown and his group of roughly 700 supporters acted as though they were celebrating the groundbreaking of the construction for the train, the New York Times reported, “Ground was actually broken a few months ago, as clearing of the land began.”
The various criticisms leveled at the project did not seem to matter to Brown, who blustered, “People do get pusillanimous. I wanted to use that word because that’s the adjective I’m going to affix to all the critics. You can look it up on your cellphone right now. Pusillanimous. It means weak of spirit. The Golden Gate Bridge, that was attacked. BART–the mayor of Berkeley said this thing was a complete boondoggle.”
The ceremony was intended to mark the beginning of construction of the first 29 miles of the track that would run from Madera to Fresno, and is expected to finish in 2018.
Dan Richard, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority board, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “This is ceremonial, but we’re really at a stage where we’re transitioning from planning and environmental work and getting legislation approved and doing design work and fighting lawsuits. We’re really now moving to a point where continuous construction begins. This is where people are going to begin seeing physical manifestations of the project being built.”
The new Republican Congress may stand squarely in the way of Brown’s plans. The Times reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hails from Bakersfield, said, “Sadly, today’s groundbreaking is a political maneuver. Supporters of the railroad in Sacramento can’t admit their project is deeply flawed, and they won’t give up on it despite the cost. But these political tricks are exactly what the American people are tired of and what the new Republican Congress is committed to ending.”
But in Fresno, Brown argued, “I wasn’t quite sure where the hell we were going to get the rest of the money. But don’t worry about it. We are going to get it. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles.” He added, “High-speed rail will take us from the past to the future, from the south to Fresno and north. It is truly a California project bringing us together today.”
The Chronicle noted that while numerous unsuccessful lawsuits have attempted to stop the construction of the bullet train, construction crews have been buying property and demolishing buildings for months as they started the project. Lisa Marie Alley, speaking for the High Speed Rail Authority, told the Chronicle that the 29-mile section should be done by 2018. The next part of the rail constructed would run from Fresno to Bakersfield, then skip south to build from Palmdale to Burbank. The builders think it will take until 2029 to complete the entire system from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
That doesn’t bother Brown, who said, “2030, you may think that’s around the corner. I’ll be 92 in 2030. I’m working and pumping iron and eating vegetables. I want to be around.”
The Times interviewed Lisa Schweitzer, an associate professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, who cynically noted, “There’s definitely a commitment trap component to this–that if they get shovels in the ground, no one is going to back up from a partially completed project. Then if you run out of money, you just start asking for more money. And you get all the pictures of the silver shovels in the ground, and the guys on construction crews saying how they had been out of work and this is a great job.”
Jim Patterson, the former mayor of Fresno, was among those excluded from the invitation-only event, and blasted, “We all support progress. What we don’t support is financial foolishness and government deceit. That’s what we have here. This is a sham event. They don’t have the money to build this…but this is what a one-party dictatorial government can do.”
KCRA Sacramento reports that the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Ridership and Revenue Forecast projected that a ticket for the full ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles would cost $80 to $90. KCRA noted, “Estimates put the rail fare from Sacramento to the San Joaquin Valley at $54 to $78. A driver could do the trip on a few gallons of gasoline for much less.”