High-speed rail agency lacks leader at crucial juncture

Four months after then-California High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Jeff Morales told authority board members he was moving on and two months after Morales made his decision public, the agency overseeing the state’s $64 billion bullet train project hasn’t settled on his successor.

In 2012, four months after Chief Executive Roelof van Ark abruptly left following two stormy years, Morales already had the job. This time around, the same speedy selection process seemed likely. The RT&S transportation industry website reported after Morales’ decision was announced in April that the board was likely to have his replacement approved before Morales’ final day of June 2.

But the CHSRA board met in closed session on the succession issue on May 10 and June 14 without reaching a decision. The rail agency’s number two job – deputy chief executive – has also been vacant since Dennis Trujillo left in December.

The empty slots atop the CHSRA power structure come at a critical time.

According to a federal report prepared under the Obama administration, the state’s high-speed rail project is already seven years behind schedule and on its way to having a 50 percent cost overrun on the $6.4 billion, 118-mile first segment now being built in the Central Valley.

The project also continues to face legal challenges which argue that it violates the terms of Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the project. The rail authority has won most recent judgments. But opponents remain confident they eventually will prevail because of a 2014 state appellate court ruling that held the project still was subject to a financial “straitjacket” that would require it to show short- and long-term financial viability without public subsidies before the project could significantly proceed. The project’s struggle to attract private investment shows that at least in the private sector, there are many doubts that the bullet train could operate successfully without such subsidies.

Obama administration rules could haunt project

But the election of Donald Trump as president in November also has led to a huge new headache for CHSRA. All 14 California House Republicans have urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to reverse Obama administration actions that loosened federal rules to give California access to about $3 billion in federal dollars for the project.

Rep. Jeff Dunman, R-Turlock, and his colleagues have focused their harshest fire on a 2012 decision that gave the state the go-ahead to spend about $200 million in federal funds but not have matching state spending. The decision went against longstanding Washington precedent.

Withdrawing all federal funding could also be justified by citing the Obama administration’s 2009 regulations for projects that were to be paid for or partly paid for with money from the economic stimulus bill passed a month after President Obama took office. The Federal Railroad Administration rules said projects that didn’t demonstrate “reasonableness of financial estimates” and “quality of planning process” would get no funding.

That’s the same agency which recently concluded the project was seven years behind schedule and on course for a 50 percent cost overrun on its initial segment

The California High Speed Rail Authority board’s next meeting is July 18 in Sacramento.

8 comments

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  1. Dave
    Dave 20 June, 2017, 09:36

    Put a fork in it! It is DONE!!!

    Reply this comment
  2. Doug
    Doug 20 June, 2017, 10:50

    Democrat policies at their best…….

    The Democratic Party currently holds supermajorities in both chambers of the California Legislature. The state senate currently consists of 27 Democrats and 13 Republicans, and the Assembly consists of 55 Democrats and 25 Republicans. Except for the period from 1995 to 1996, the Assembly has been in Democratic hands since the 1970 election (even while the governor’s office has gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats). The Senate has been in Democratic hands continuously since
    1970.

    Why would anyone be surprised that this JB boondoggle is failing?

    According to a federal report prepared under the Obama administration, the state’s high-speed rail project is already seven years behind schedule and on its way to having a 50 percent cost overrun on the $6.4 billion, 118-mile first segment now being built in the Central Valley.

    If the Legislature spent less time at Frank Fat’s drinking and more sober time trying to do the people’s work, the state might have better roads and have never started this money pit project to begin with. Like the Bay Bridge, spend 20 years and billions building a new bridge but not increasing the number of lanes. No one thought to include the massive increase in population that are using the bridge now. Seems like another leaning skyscraper built on fill thinking all over again. Way to go Sacto.

    Reply this comment
  3. Dude
    Dude 20 June, 2017, 19:38

    We don’t need an agency “leader” to help us shut down the boondoggle also known as the Brown Streak.

    Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 20 June, 2017, 21:31

    It will be built…..you all know it……chill

    Reply this comment
  5. ricky65
    ricky65 20 June, 2017, 22:00

    Quite fitting actually.
    A runaway train with no one at the controls except a power mad lunatic Don Quixote Brown slewing imaginary climate windmills while the state spirals into bankruptcy.
    His legacy will be about as long lasting as a piss rivulet on a sand dune in the middle of the windy Sahara desert.

    Reply this comment
  6. Howard Epstein
    Howard Epstein 21 June, 2017, 08:10

    If you liked Boston’s Big Dig and the Bay Bridge fiasco, you’ll love the Moonbeam Express.

    Reply this comment
    • Queeg
      Queeg 21 June, 2017, 08:40

      Comrades

      All monarchs had favorite toys…..now get back to kissing his ring-

      Reply this comment
  7. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 21 June, 2017, 12:53

    The Porklines rail road

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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