The Spectacle Blog

California Rail Board Approves $4.15 billion “Train to Nowhere”

By on 12.3.10 | 9:45AM

On Thursday, the California High Speed Rail Authority board unanimously approved the 65-mile "train to nowhere" that would link two tiny towns at a cost of $4.15 billion, all because the state didn't want to lose $2 billion in federal stimulus funds.

The rail line would connect two central California towns, Borden and Corcoran, with a combined population of 25,000. But that's merely an estimate from Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza, an opponent of the plan. In reality, the San Jose Mercury News notes, Borden "is an unincorporated community for which the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't even keep official population estimates."

The line is supposed to be the first part of an ambitious $43 billion project aimed at linking San Francisco and Anaheim, but the decision to start in such a low population density area even had members of the rail authority scratching their heads earlier this week.

A Mercury News story originally posted Tuesday, reported:

Even rail authority member Rod Diridon, of San Jose, said he spent four hours on the phone with authority staffers trying to make sense of it.

"I'm still struggling to understand why the originating system wouldn't interconnect to major communities," Diridon said.

But he noted that federal officials have threatened to yank funds if the authority hasn't chosen a starting point by the end of the month, so Diridon has proposed what he calls a compromise: Build the Corcoran to Borden section, with the promise that the rails would extend to Merced and other large cities next.

That was Tuesday, and on Thursday the board voted 7-0 to approve the project, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Last month, Rep. Jerry Lewis introduced a bill to rescind $12 billion in unspent stimulus money, which would include $2 billion for the high-speed rail project. (The original award was $2.25 billion, but California already spent $200 million on "planning," reports the Mercury News.) The Obama administration responded by telling Lewis that rescinding the funds would "negatively impact our economic strength both now and in the future."

What's more, California is hoping to get $15 billion more in federal funding for the project over the next decade.

So to sum up, a state that's broke is spending billions of dollars on a project that benefits a tiny percentage of people, so that it doesn't lose billions of dollars in payments from a country that's broke. For all the lofty promises made by President Obama about remaking the foundations of the American economy, this is the reality of big government.

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