Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Newsom on high-speed rail: Same old crap

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his State of the State address Tuesday that California would abandon the plan to build high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Instead, Newsom announced a plan to connect Merced and Bakersfield.  Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
Gavin Newsom has always liked to portray himself as a bold leader, which is what he's trying to do on the high-speed rail issue. 

He'll be pleased with a quotation in the LA Times story

“It is shocking,” said a senior executive at a major engineering firm in California who has worked on the bullet train project and asked not to be identified. “I didn’t think he was that bold.”

But Paul Dyson gets it right in the same story:

"It looks like he kicked the can down the road," said Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passengers Association of California. "He hasn't stopped anything that was planned to be done. It will go on maybe until money runs out. It isn't a bold step in one direction or another."

The only thing Newsom has scrapped is a minor project to provide an electrified commuter train from Gilroy to San Jose.

Instead, good money has to be thrown after bad on the original project! 

From the transcript of Newsom's State of the State speech:

Look, we will continue to support our regional projects north and south. We’ll finish Phase 1 of the environmental work. We’ll connect the revitalized Central Valley to other parts of the state, and we will continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars. But let’s get something done, once and for all.

And for those of you, I know you’re out there, who want to throw away this whole project, walk away from this whole endeavor, I offer you this: Abandoning high speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.

And with all due respect, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump. That fundamentally would have to happen if we just walked away.

This has always been the strategy of mega-project supporters: downplay costs and exaggerate the benefits of a project to get it started. When the costs inevitably balloon, they then warn that the money already invested shouldn't be wasted!

From a book all about this issue (Megaprojects and Risk):

Martin Wachs interviewed public officials, consultants and planners who had been involved in transit planning cases in the US. He found that a pattern of highly misleading forecasts of costs and patronage could not be explained by technical issues and were best explained by lying. In case after case, planners, engineers and economists told Wachs that they had to "cook" forecasts in order to produce numbers that would satisfy their superiors and get projects started, whether or not the numbers could be justified on technical grounds (page 47, emphasis added).

Though California's high-speed rail project isn't discussed in the book, it's a perfect example of how that process works.

In effect, Governor Newsom is now ratifying a long history of lies justifying this project.

Though I'm a liberal Democrat, I have to admit that Randal O'Toole said it best: "All you have to do is mention the words 'public transit' and progressives will fall over themselves to support you no matter how expensive and ridiculous your plans."

Not surprising to learn that an important part of the Democratic Party's base, the unions, like the project. After all even dumb projects create jobs for their members, which is all they care about.

What Newsom hopes: that in 2020 voters will elect a Democrat president and give Democrats control of the Senate, which will lead to federal money for this poorly conceived, ruinously expensive project.

Thanks to CALmatters for the transcript.

See also Gavin Newsom, gay marriage, high-speed rail and Democrats are dumb on high-speed rail.

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Bike lane on Richmond/San Rafael Bridge: "Faith-based" planning

Seamus O'Ramus

Dick Spotswood in the Marin Independent Journal:

The Transportation Authority of Marin made a good move recently when it voted to urge the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to shorten its “test” period from four years to six months for the under-construction bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s upper deck.

It followed the lead of Supervisor Damon Connolly, whose idea is that after a half-year trial, if peak period cycling across the San Pablo Bay span is low, the lane’s movable barrier should be shifted to allow westbound autos, buses and trucks to use the lane from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m. on weekdays. The remaining 143 hours a week would be reserved for cyclists and the hardy souls who’ll hike the 5.5-mile windy crossing and its approaches. That’s a fair compromise.

TAM”s board, composed of Marin’s five county supervisors and a representative from each of Marin’s 11 incorporated communities, voted 14-2 for Connolly’s compromise... It’s a loud message to MTC that at least one county cares about the tens of thousands of mostly East Bay-originating commuters forced to endure a 22-minute wait due to lack of a third westbound bridge auto lane.

According to TAM projections, in 2020 the delay will be 27 minutes. Even the Marin County Bicycle Coalition hasn’t formally endorsed the Richmond bridge bikeway, only saying that it doesn’t oppose it.

Outside of East Bay cycling activists, the push for 24-7 use of the cycling lane comes from MTC, whose Utopian hope is the Bay Area will someday replicate cycling in flat-as-a-pan Amsterdam.

The bridge bikeway is faith-based transportation planning. There’s no evidence that many cyclists will commute from Contra Costa to Marin. That’s because MTC refused to conduct a bike usage study. Their fear was if ridership was shown to be embarrassingly low, a multi-million-dollar bridge bikeway would have been a non-starter...

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