Bullet train: entering boondoggle territory?

An elevated section of the high-speed rail under construction in Fresno.

The cost of the Central Valley leg of California’s bullet train has jumped 77% to $10.6 billion, raising questions about the honestly of former cost estimates, and even whether the state can afford to complete the system.

I’ve been a bullet train suporter from day one, because of the increased prosperity the line will bring to Stockton. To say nothing of the quick transportation it will offer.

I’ve accepted cost overruns up to this point because all major public works projects have them. But there is a line which when crossed compels scrutiny.

The cost of the Central Valley segment has spiked from around $6 billion to $10.6 billion, with more cost hikes in prospect.

Equally troubling, former rail Authority chairman Dan Richard was less than forthright about these sharp cost increases. The L.A. Times reports today that the Federal Railroad Administration issued a dire (and, mysteriously, secret) report a year ago warning of painful cost increases; when it became public, Richard pooh-poohed it. When the train’s main consultant prediced much higher costs, the figures were not included in the system’s business plan.

The board voted in a new chief, Brian Kelly, on Tuesday.

Evidently, “… the Authority and its consultants have vastly underextimated the diffuculties of buying land, obtainining environmental approvals, navigating through complex litigation and much else,” the Times writes.

It’s my perhaps jaundiced belief that the state underserves the Central Valley, so I have viewed the bullet train’s cost overruns as a form of equity in which the Valley finally gets much-deserved investment. But there’s a point at which a region must look beyond its needs and consider the global interests of the state. Thanks to the bullet train’s soaring cost overruns and dubious managment, I’m there.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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