No ‘time out’ for city in rail authority’s cross-hairs

Dec. 21, 2012

By Chris Reed

train_wreck_num_2The nervousness is growing in Bakersfield as the California High-Speed Rail Authority moves toward locking into a route that will disrupt the lives of thousands of people — and maybe for no reason.

The rail line into and through Bakersfield won’t be built in the first bullet-train segment that is supposed to begin construction in 2013. And there is vast reason to think the second segment will never be built because the state government is cash-strapped and the federal government is unlikely to borrow billions and billions for high-speed rail for one and only one state.

So what happens? Something reasonable.  As Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry reports, there is growing interest in a “time out” to resolve unsettled issues and unanswered questions:

“[It] would give the authority, city and other groups time to come up with a more amenable alignment and avoid lawsuits. Court action is almost certain if the pending EIR is certified with its current proposed route cutting through downtown Bakersfield on an 80-foot elevated track in some places.

“Most importantly, a time-out for property owners would mean we wouldn’t have a certified EIR looming over our heads making it impossible to sell our homes or businesses for any decent money and with no prospect of the state buying us out either.

“‘Why select a route and set it in stone when you don’t know when, or even if, you’ll have the money to go all the way into Bakersfield?’ asked Ahron Hakimi, director of the Kern Council of Governments, which oversees transportation projects in Kern.”

But Henry’s conclusion is that a time out isn’t likely for the worst possible reason imaginable. She notes that authority officials refuse to engage on the issue, and then cites a very sharp observation by Jeff Taylor of the Save Bakersfield Committee:

“‘But what would happen if they said this was a reasonable request?’ he wondered. ‘They’d basically be admitting to the fact that it was poorly planned. And what would that say about the rest of their plan, which also sucks?'”

We’ve heard of “too big to fail.” We’ve heard of bureaucratic inertia keeping stupid projects chugging toward completion. But with the California bullet train, we are witnessing a new kind of government fiasco: Fanatics who have to pretend their plan is perfect, because if they acknowledge any of the big flaws — such as the absurdity of throwing a city into upheaval for a rail line that may never come to pass — than all of a sudden the whole thing looks ridiculous.

$69 billion project. About $10 billion in hand. No prospects for the rest.

What the hell, let’s paralyze Bakersfield anyways.

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