Monday, September 19, 2011

Train Wreck A Comin': The High Speed Rail Lawsuits Pile Up

On the one hand, California is busily going about building a high speed rail between SF and LA. On the other, no one actually expects it to get built. That's because virtually every mile of track is rapidly becoming the subject of litigation up and down the state. Hey, sometimes burdensome lawsuits are a good thing.

Even if state officials can scrape together the billions of dollars needed to fund California's ambitious high-speed rail plans, lawsuits from cities and opposition groups could delay, divert or derail the project.

In the Bay Area, cities and nonprofits are suing over issues with the route and environmental studies. In Southern California, the city of Palmdale (Los Angeles County) has gone to court over fears that rail officials will abandon a planned Antelope Valley line through the city and reroute the tracks up Interstate 5 instead.

Perhaps the hardest-fought battle is yet to come in the Central Valley, where Kings County officials and residents say they'll do everything in their power to stop a 100-mile stretch of track from wiping out thousands of acres of prime farmland between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The biggest obstacle facing the beleaguered bullet train is probably its uncertain financial future. But lengthy court battles also could affect the project by delaying construction, increasing costs and altering the course the train takes through the state.

According to estimates by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, rerouting the high-speed line to satisfy stakeholders could add hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars to the final price tag.

The Free Will Sister is a transportation planner, and even she thinks HSR is dumb. For one thing, there are stations being planned for no better reason than to placate this or that assemblyman whom you've never heard of. For another, there's already a high speed connection between SF and LA. It's called an airplane. And, she never gets tired of pointing out that the $10 billion HSR bond was not a construction bond, but was little more than a mechanism for setting up the bureaucracy to "study" HSR.

What's absurd is that there are very few vocal proponents of HSR...yet the HSR bond passed convincingly back in the year of hope and change, wafted along by gassy "We Are The Future" rhetoric from the Governator. In my town of Burlingame, the proposal is for the HSR line to cut right through the middle of town on an elevated platform, which just might interfere with our sleepy small town atmosphere. A lot of folks are up in arms, but you really have to wonder how many of them actually voted for this thing without considering the consequences.

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