While Cole Graves made some valid points in his op-ed commentary regarding the bullet train proposal, (“California’s bullet train can solve travel woes”), he also made a few well-intentioned errors in his essay.
First, his math calculations for the California Aqueduct missed the mark. He noted that the initial cost projection for the aqueduct was $1.75 billion, but it was later estimated to be four times that at $4.3 billion. Actually, four times $1.75 billion comes in at $7.0 billion.
Next, Graves correctly asserted that most large government projects end up costing the taxpayers far more than the original budget estimates. Obviously, that was the case with the California Aqueduct and California’s public institutions of higher education. Indeed, it would be difficult to list all of the government projects that took too long to complete and dripped with red ink. Moreover, rising university costs are triggered by layers and layers of bureaucracy.
The reason that these long-term projects keep moving the goalposts every month or two is due to excessive regulations. Contractors and subcontractors must jump through many hoops in order to obtain the winning contract with a government entity. Incredible amounts of energy and time are spent navigating the red tape from start to finish. Thus, the costs keep climbing.
Third, Graves optimistically believes that the expected future ridership of the bullet train will pan out. But will it? Moreover, the guesstimates for future daily ridership fluctuate wildly. Californians are in love with their cars and greater numbers of drivers are opting for electric and/or hybrid automobiles. Consequently, this trend will help to reduce the problem of air pollution.
Fourth, California is awash in debt and can’t afford to fund pipe dreams such as the train to nowhere. Sacramento is drowning in unfunded entitlement programs yet still seeks to spend more on dubious projects rather than fix California’s bridges, dams, roadways and schools. The federal Amtrak system is a great example of a railway system that has almost never operated on the credit side of the accounting ledger. Is this what Californians need?
Fifth, why make taxpayers foot the bill for a fantasy project that has endless cost overruns, will displace plenty of property owners and faces an uncertain future? If Jerry Brown wishes to stamp his legacy on California, he ought to repair urgent infrastructure needs in the state and leave the bullet train to competing private investor bidders.
They might be able to complete this vision at half the cost and half the time. Indeed, most large government undertakings could be carried out far more efficiently by the private sector. If private capital built a high-speed train, market forces could be used for salaries and ticket prices, and this venture might even turn a profit.
Cal State Fullerton alumnus