Feds throw down gauntlet for HSR

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Feds throw down gauntlet for HSRLast week, conservative lawmakers lauded California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for conceding in his State of the State address the hurdles in completing his predecessor’s dream of a bullet train across California.

“There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego,” he said, citing the mounting costs and delays of the multi-billion-dollar project.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican, commended Newsom for his position, while Assemblyman Vince Fong doubled down and called for the governor to abandon his current plan to link the Central Valley by a scaled down project.

Newsom later appeared to change his position on the high-speed rail project — a shift some believe was provoked by President Donald Trump’s tweet that California would be on the hook to repay billions in federal funding for the project.

McCarthy issued a statement this week noting that California is in violation of its agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, which is seeking to rescind some $929 million in unspent funds.

“At every turn, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has mismanaged and misled Californians on the viability of the project. Its budget has ballooned by the billions, projected ridership numbers have proven exaggerated and the private investment that was promised never materialized,” said McCarthy.

“And throughout it all, the authority has gone to great lengths to keep these facts from California and American taxpayers.

“It is time to move on from the broken high-speed rail project and redirect our efforts to infrastructure projects that work for Californians.”

Fong has also been quoted by state and federal media agencies in expressions of opposition to the project, including during a Feb. 15 interview on Fox Business.

“The governor said that the High Speed Rail project, in its pro forma, is not viable. That’s something I’ve been saying for quite some time,” said Fong. “It’s fundamentally flawed, its grossly over-budget and it lacks transparency and accountability.”

He called the project a “bait and switch” on the public, which voted approval of the project in 2008. “The biggest problem I see is that the project is no longer high-speed rail — not even close.

“We have to be honest with the public and give them an opportunity to vote on this new rail plan,” he said. “But to be clear, I think the rail project is no longer high speed and will continue to be plagued with problems and setbacks. It should be scrapped entirely.”

The ensuing discussion between Fong and the program hosts identified a successful rail project in Florida.

“I don’t want to throw Gavin under the bus, because he noticed that everybody has messed up with this project,” said economic analyst Jonas Ferris. “Down in Florida, we have high-speed rail. It works, and it’s expanding.” He added that California’s former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to suggest the project. “Why can they do it in Florida and not California? And what’s the plan to make it happen there? Because I think your state needs it.”

“If you agree with high-speed rail in concept, that’s one thing,” said Fong. But the way it’s been attempted in California will not work, he said.

“There are plenty of projects in the Central Valley that would be a better investment that would improve quality of life. [HSR] is not a project that’s going to come to fruition.”

Story First Published: 2019-02-22