Friday, July 29, 2011

Even SF beginnng to admit high-speed rail in trouble

Alexander Hunter

You know that California's high-speed rail project is in trouble when even the monolithic support here in Progressive Land is cracking, with both the Examiner and the Chronicle running articles suggesting that the project is in danger, the first critical articles to appear in San Francisco since the state's voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008.

The Examiner's story is ostensibly about the Transbay Transit Center, the bloated design of which will seem even less justifiable without high-speed rail. Given the recent skepticism about the project, "many people across the state are questioning whether the high-speed rail project will ever make it to San Francisco---or even be built---and if the new Transbay Transit Center will amount to little more than a $1.5 billion bus station."

Until now that sort of questioning hasn't happened in San Francisco.

The Examiner talks to high-speed rail supporters, including Quentin Kopp, Stuart Cohen of Transform, and Gabriel Metcalf, who supports the Transit Center no matter what: “There is no question that The City is taking a risk in building this project, but it’s an absolutely necessary risk and one with a worthwhile payoff.”

Metcalf's SPUR, which, for some reason is always touted as a "good government" group, supports both the financially ruinous high-speed rail project and the city's Central Subway project, which will cost the city at least $124 million. The city's share in the terminal project is $105 million. Gee, I wonder why Muni is always in the red and the city is asking voters to okay a $248 million bond just to take care of our streets?

Both the Chronicle and the Examiner repeat the project's clearly false estimate of $43 billion to build the system, an estimate that has been discredited by critics. The Examiner even repeats the CHSR's bogus estimate of 41 million passengers by 2035.

The Chronicle's story does a better job of talking to high-speed rail's critics. In particular it talks to Alain Enthoven, who---with William Warren and William Grindley---has written a series of reports that methodically deconstruct the lies and folly of California's high-speed rail project:

"It's a huge risk and probably will lose a lot of money," he said. "In our current fiscal straits, both federal and state, we just don't have the money to spend on that, especially when we're cutting high-priority health and social services for poor kids and education. I'd hate to see cutbacks to universities, which are so important to our future economic growth and the welfare of society."

The November, 2008, voter's guide told us what it would cost the state just to sell the $9.95 billion in bonds authorized by the electorate: "State costs of about $19.4 billion, assuming 30 years to pay off both principal ($9.95 billion) and interest ($9.5 billion) costs of the bonds. Payments of about $647 million per year."

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