My cover story for the March print edition on the California high-speed rail boondoggle is now available on the main site. This project is worth keeping an eye on, because it has already claimed $3.2 billion from the Obama administration and hopes to get at least $18 billion from federal taxpayers in the years to come. In the more immediate term, California is angling for some of the high-speed rail stimulus funds that Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected. In a broader sense, the California high-speed rail effort is a case study in what happens when liberal fantasy confronts reality.
Some highlights from the story:
— The initial $5.5 billion portion of the project, now in the works, won’t result in any actual high-speed trains running, and would merely lay tracks in a relatively low population part of the state.
— A week before the 2010 midterm elections, the Obama administration awarded $715 million in additional federal money to the project under the condition that the first segment would be built in the less inhabited Central Valley – coincidently, where two Democratic members of Congress were facing tough reelection battles.
— A number of independent analysts have questioned the cost projections and business model for the high-speed rail project – and a University of California at Berkeley study concluded the ridership estimates being used to sell the plan were unreliable.
— The project has encountered a lot of community opposition as it has progressed. Several wealthy cities (Palo Alto, Atherton, and Menlo Park) are suing to prevent the trains from tearing through their downtowns. Farmers are worried that the tracks will carve up their land. Some environmental groups normally predisposed to supporting high-speed rail have turned against the proposed route, fearing its effects on undeveloped areas.
— One state legislator in California is lobbying the U.S. Congress to stop sending his own state any more money for high-speed rail. “When they send us money, it actually costs us money,” he told me. A local mayor echoed the sentiment, and heaped praise on Govs. Scott Walker and John Kasich for turning down high-speed rail money in Wisconsin and Ohio.
— A high-speed rail authority official acknowledged to me that they won’t be able to attract private financing for the project unless they have a steady flow of money from Washington, and thus they plan on continuing to “compete aggressively for federal funding.”
— If House Republicans manage cut off high-speed rail funding, they could deal the project a fatal blow.
Lots more in the full piece. As they say, read the whole thing here.