Deferral of federal funds casts fresh doubt on California high-speed rail

 

The new administration in Washington, D.C., has added another hurdle to California’s already difficult road to high-speed rail.

Drawing fire from Democrats and cheers from Republicans, the Department of Transportation “has deferred a decision on a $647-million grant that would help Caltrain electrify a section of track between San Jose and San Francisco, a project crucial to California’s struggling high-speed rail project,” as the Los Angeles Times noted. “The decision not to approve the grant by a key Friday deadline may be an early sign of the Trump administration’s view of the bullet train project. The line is already under construction and will need significant federal funding moving forward.” 

That funding has been coveted because of the additional grants it triggers if approved. “The federal grant, if it is ultimately awarded, would be matched by another $1.3 billion in local, state and regional investment, including funds from the high-speed rail agency,” the Fresno Bee reported

An ongoing struggle

Although the rail effort has been hamstrung by ballooning costs and time projections and repeated downward revisions of its original ambitions, Gov. Jerry Brown and his allies have labored to portray opposition as anti-innovation. With Democrats and Republicans at the federal level both making overtures to infrastructure reform, the governor swiftly sought to criticize the Transportation Department move accordingly. “If you’re not for that, you’re really not for infrastructure,” Brown told Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee. “The only thing you can say for that is it’s scoring political points by politicians that know better.” 

Meanwhile, Caltrain itself has sprung into political action, pushing for a reconsideration. “In a petition to the White House, Caltrain is urging the administration to reverse course on its decision to halt $647 million worth of grant money for the transit agency until at least the fiscal 2018 budget,” The Hill reported. “California officials say the delay could have a major impact on the economy and jobs in the region.”

“The move follows directly on the heels of a letter from 14 California Republicans, who pleaded with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to block the federal grants and argued that the money would be wasted,” the site added. “The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees railroads.”

Staunch opposition

State and Congressional GOP have held a firm line against the bullet train, one of a relative few of big-ticket policies pushed by ruling Democrats that hasn’t tapped a very deep reservoir of public support. “Killing the project entirely before larger amounts of money are poured into it is probably the best taxpayers could hope for,” wrote Baruch Feigenbaum of the Reason Foundation, summing up the standpoint of Golden State conservatives and libertarians.

“But that’s not likely to happen on Gov. Jerry Brown’s watch. Brown has been committed to creatively diverting money to the rail system and will continue to do so. So California should take a cue from President Trump, who has called for increased private-sector investment in infrastructure projects, and explore whether or not there are standalone sections of a high-speed rail system that make financial sense for private companies.”

Although the Department of Transportation did not put a timeline on how long its deferral of a decision on the train would last, it may also have to first decide whether to grant Republicans’ wish for tighter oversight over the project altogether. “Members of California’s GOP delegation had asked the Transportation Department to block approval of the grant to electrify a Caltrain line between San Jose and San Francisco until an audit of the bullet train’s finances is completed,” as the Bee reported. “They said that providing additional funding to help the $64 billion high-speed rail project would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.”

10 comments

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  1. Fletch'
    Fletch' 1 March, 2017, 10:48

    This bullet train is most ridiculous thing the state doesn’t need.It’s a pay-off to his Democratic friends, like Nancy Pelosi’s husband. There is no more evidence that the state needs this stupid train then we have evidence that CO2 costs global warming. The best medium distance transit effort between cities is still airplanes until someone shows us that trains work okay between short distances, the statedoes not need it.

    Reply this comment
  2. Maltese Falcon
    Maltese Falcon 1 March, 2017, 12:12

    CA has dams and bridges collapsing and we need high speed rail to places no one goes to? Hopefully, this is the step toward killing it off.

    Reply this comment
  3. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 1 March, 2017, 12:22

    Good. California does not need Governor Moonbeam’s high-speed rail. What we need is for the new administration in Washington, D.C. to withhold funds and our State Legislature to let it die.

    Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 1 March, 2017, 13:38

    Better to save that monkey to fix all those bridges and oroville dam rather then on some pork high speed railway

    Reply this comment
  5. bob
    bob 1 March, 2017, 18:34

    The Brown Tard and the Demonrats will bleed us white before they give up the train to nowhere

    Reply this comment
  6. Dude
    Dude 1 March, 2017, 19:48

    This worthless squandering of our money is simply an ego trophy for Governor piD tihS.

    Reply this comment
  7. Dork
    Dork 2 March, 2017, 08:06

    If this choo choo is such a Great Idea and is going to be such a Big Money Maker for the State, why don’t we use the Public Employee Retirement Funds to Finance it, they can Keep ALL the Profits to them selves. AND THE LOSSES

    Reply this comment
  8. Jeff
    Jeff 2 March, 2017, 11:53

    Kill it. Widening I-5 to six lanes between Sacramento and Bakersfield would be a lot more useful to the vast majority of Californians who prefer to travel by car. They already have huge medians available for the landed needed to do so. Oh, and work on our crumbling infrastructure.

    Reply this comment
  9. Buddy
    Buddy 5 March, 2017, 10:30

    The airlines in California are not controlled by the state government. The state will arrange to give free trips on the hi-speed trains to all the Dems going from LA to Frisco and Sacto to propagate their liberal agenda.

    Reply this comment
  10. flax
    flax 7 March, 2017, 07:07

    What happens when California spends billions annually on illegal aliens and a part-time high speed train?

    Oroville Dam happens

    Reply this comment

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