Friday, July 6, 2012

California embraces the future!

Today the California Senate approved funding for the first segment of the nation's first true high-speed rail network: over $3 billion in federal funds and nearly as much in previously-authorized state bonds. The money will go toward construction of a 130 mile segment of the planned network through the central valley from Bakersfield to Madera. This is the easiest and cheapest part of the rail line to build, and basically goes from nowhere to nowhere. The rest of the funding, to build the more important and difficult segments, is years away and increasingly doubtful.

I hope we eventually build the whole thing, and I can someday travel to San Francisco by a train traveling over 200 miles an hour. But even if we never build more than this pathetic little segment, I'm still thrilled. That's because approval of this project means that we have not abandoned the dream of grandiose and ambitious and forward-looking projects in California. We have not given up.

To those nay-sayers who whine about wasteful government spending, I say I don't care if it's wasted (though I don't think it will be). Even if we were to put construction crews to work digging a gigantic hole in the central valley and then filling it up again, that still might serve a useful purpose. It would at least serve the purpose of putting construction crews to work. But if we want to talk about wasteful government spending, let's compare this rail project with some other projects. Let's talk about, say, the F22 fighter jet program. The F22 fighter jet is a marvel of technology. It is awesome. It does things other fighter jets can only dream about doing. And it cost taxpayers about $79 billion, or more than $400 million per plane. A remarkable sum of money taxpayers have shelled out, especially considering that none of these incredible fighter planes has flown a single mission. That's right. Even though we've been engaged in complicated military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently Libya over the last few years. In all that time, the military has not found a use for this highly advanced aircraft. It seems that the F22 fighter jet is so advanced; it is so beyond the capabilities of any other nation we may be in conflict with, that it has no worthy adversaries.  We don't need it. Perhaps we will need it in the future, but we just haven't found a use for it yet.

Let's suppose, after we build a high speed rail line in the central valley, that hardly anyone will find it useful. After all, you can usually do 75 mph in your car in those parts, and you might not find it worthwhile to park in Bakersfield and wait for the train just to go 200 mph for a half hour stretch. If we never build the segments that will serve California's major cities, and this bullet train demonstration project merely turns into an object of curiosity out in the farmlands, we can still admire it as a monument to our technological prowess. Just like the F22 fighter. But even if only 100 people find it convenient to take the train from Bakersfield to Fresno once in a while, that would still make this tiny, useless segment of the high speed rail line 100 times more useful than the F22 fighter jet. Since this segment is less than one-tenth the cost of the F22, that means in terms of bang for the buck, it would still be more than 1000 times as useful as the jet.

And that's the worst case scenario. The best case is the more likely one, that once we build this initial segment, we will find the money to build the rest. Then eventually people will not be able to imagine life without a high speed connection between California's major cities. And a lot of us will be able to avoid the  freeway traffic or airport security lines we currently have to endure to travel across this state.

The funny thing is, a lot of Republican Congressmen screamed bloody murder when President Obama canceled the F22 fighter jet program. Some of them are the same people who object to any spending on high speed rail. They would rather spend untold billions on useless equipment that is taking up space on airfields in the Middle East than a single dollar on transportation projects that might actually help Americans get from place to place a little faster.


  1. I had to read this two times just to be sure I wasn't imagining things. Dig a hole and fill it in? This High Speed Rail project is full of deceit and violation. It is Pork and Slush. An absolute sham. The Progressives in Sacramento have lost their minds and/or are flat our crooks.

    A large part of the funds are not even going to the High Speed state wide system: $1.9 billion, is earmarked for transit system improvements in Northern and Southern California, including $140 million for new BART cars, $600 million for Caltrain electrification and $61 million for Muni's Central Subway. An additional $500 million is for improvements to Los Angeles area transit systems. A slush fund!

    There a few up there in on the left the middle and on the right that see this for what it is:

    Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto said "I think high-speed rail makes sense in California ... but we're not being asked to vote on a vision today, we're being asked to vote on a particular plan," he said, critiquing the cost and placement of the initial stretch of track in the Central Valley and noting that the $3.3 billion in federal funds is about 5 percent of the project's total cost.

    "We will be expected to put up 20 times that amount over the course of how many years. ... Regrettably, the only conclusion I can come to today is that this is the wrong plan in the wrong place in the wrong time," Simitian added.

    “We can’t take care of essential services, and are facing $6 billion in trigger cuts to education,” Donnelly continued. “This is a high-speed train robbery from our children, and our children’s children.”

    “How dare we consider this bond,” Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said. “Where are the private sector investors? I am almost embarrassed to be part of this Legislature. How dare we abdicate legislative fiscal authority.”

    “This is flat-out nuts!” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said. “It’s a train we don’t need, with money we don’t have. We are taking people’s homes and businesses to do it. People all over the world are laughing at California.”

    "High-speed rail is a case of spending $10 to make $1, and proof that it is not only a giant lie, Democrats are perpetuating this very expensive lie, and don’t appear to care who knows."

    “High speed rail was sold to the voters as an efficient and timely solution to the state’s transportation and economic needs. In reality, the project has become nothing more than a fiscal nightmare, which comes at the expense of our children and education system,”

    “We need to represent our constituents, not the High Speed Rail bureaucracy, not Governor Brown, and not President Obama’s political needs for this project.”

    “We’re spending money we don’t have.”

    1. The same arguments you are making were made when Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase; when Seward bought Alaska; when we built the transcontinental railroad and the Interstate Highway System; and when we built the aqueduct that brought water to southern California. Once these things get accomplished, however, none of those arguments matter, and people are just happy we built it.

      Anyway, my point was that even if everything all these critics are saying were true, and even if this project turns out to be nearly useless, it will still pay off better than the F22 fighter jet. That you cannot deny.

      Oh and what's wrong with $500 million for improvements to the LA transit system? I'll bet it could use more than that.

  2. Just because this catastrophe makes your chonies wet and some other far sider loves the F-22 doesn’t make either of them right! They are wastes.

    It begs the question, where are your priorities?

  3. << Oh and what's wrong with $500 million for improvements to the LA transit system? I'll bet it could use more than that.>>

    That's not what we voted for! Neither is this abomonation.

  4. My priorities are pretty much in favor of practically any public works project ever proposed. Because we are generally much too cheap when it comes to public works projects. Except I'm not all that enthusiastic about building more prisons and highways. We might already have too many of those. But when the federal government is giving you the down payment, and you can borrow the rest at historically low interest rates, to be paid back out of fare revenues, and your state is going to double in population over the next century, which might otherwise require you to pave the whole state over for more highways, it's pretty much a no-brainer. Anybody who thinks that trains are not a big part of the solution has not studied our transportation problems sufficiently.

  5. Before we double the population over the next 100 years, how about focusing on educating our children today and stopping the blood letting of business to other states/nations and the tax revenue that goes with them. Shake yourself, 100 years ago we didn't have flight. Now you want to go Abe Lincoln Vampire Slayer and build more trains? Seriously, I would rather hire men and women to dig holes and re-fill them. Have you seen pictures of what is left of the Greece Olympics? STOP!

  6. The population will grow whether we like it or not. And not building trains will cost a lot more than building them.

    I have no idea of the economic costs and benefits of the Olympics in Greece, but it does seem obvious that they should have either torn most of those facilities down when they were done with them, or continued to maintain them.

    Where did you get the idea that I am an advocate of graffiti and vandalism? I hate graffiti and vandalism. I used to ride the subways in New York City back in the 1970's when I was in school there, and they were covered in graffiti and highly unreliable. That was depressing and demoralizing for everyone. Then the city got the idea of selling fare-backed bonds to revitalize the system, and spent a huge amount of money making capital improvements until the subway system was beautiful again. And that was probably one of the best investments New York ever made to keep businesses and people in the city.

    If we don't have a first class transportation system in California, including seaports, airports, highways, and yes, high speed trains, that is what is going to send business elsewhere. And then we won't have money to educate our kids either. As an example, right now the Port of Los Angeles is frantically upgrading the freight lines at the port because they know that if they can't move the containers out quickly, then when Panama finishes widening the canal we are going to lose a whole bunch of business to East Coast ports. We have to keep upgrading our infrastructure. Our problem is not that we are spending too much on infrastructure projects. Our problem is that we are spending too little.

  7. << I have no idea of the economic costs and benefits of the Olympics in Greece, but it does seem obvious that they should have either torn most of those facilities down when they were done with them, or continued to maintain them. >>

    Did you consider not building them?

    << Our problem is not that we are spending too much on infrastructure projects. Our problem is that we are spending too little. >>

    Everything is a Krugman-in-Wonderland. Dig a hole and fill it. Nobel Prize.

  8. Say it ain't so, Kevin, you want to cancel the Olympics! Next you'll say we should cancel Christmas and close Disneyland!

  9. I am glad you brought those two examples up.

    1) if Romney is running the Olympics, then carry on. If Greece is running the Olympics then move them elsewhere and spare the people. I Hope that is clear.

    2) if Walt Disney puts in place a successful business like Disneyland that is affordable, profitable and gives back to the community, it stands on its own.

    3) Christmas? The birth of Jesus Christ; feel free to discuss.

  10. You know how Romney saved the Olympics, don't you? He got a federal bailout. And let's not bring religion into this discussion. We were talking about wasteful spending. Christmas is the champion of wasteful spending.

  11. False.

    "Did he save the games on his own, no," said Lane Beattie, who was the president of the Utah state Senate at the time and was the state's liaison with the committee Romney ran. But he "absolutely" made them more successful."

    The point is, he did not build a Krugman hole and fill it. Greece dug a hole and threw it's own people down it in.

    On the subject of religion, we agree. Out of place. My aplogies. On Christmas excess, we agree.

  12. Not false:

  13. That's not what I meant. You know better than that. You are deliberately creating a false dilema. Something you do on a regular basis.

    You said: << You know how Romney saved the Olympics, don't you? He got a federal bailout. >>

    I said false.

    It's not that there wasn't federal funds; there have always been federal funds as part of the Olympics (outside of the 1984 LA Olympics). But that doesn't make an Olympics successful and isn't the sole reason those Olympics were successful. C'mon!