To quote a rock and roll classic, when trying to gather votes for a statewide project you can’t always get what you want.  One should expect a few snafus when a project concept begins in the mid 1990’s and takes years to get a Legislative buy-in. But, with the contorted track of progress and even shakier financial support for California’s High Speed Rail experiment, it appears if we move forward, all we may end up with is a stranded 130 un-electrified track in the Central Valley.  There is a possibility of funding in San Francisco, and maybe funding in the Caltrain corridor to San Jose.  I say maybe, because the opinion written by Legislative Counsel, dated June 8, 2012 is a bit muddled – just like the project. The opinion pertains to the 4th plan’s compliance with the $9.95 billion bond and/or AB 3034 Legislative requirements for appropriating under the bond.

One thing is clear – Southern California will be hard pressed to benefit from the current plan and funding in the “bookends.”  As you recall, the 4th plan included San Francisco- San Jose and Los Angeles-Anaheim as bookend locations for funding. As I read the Legislative Counsel opinion:

  1. The 130 mile Central Valley segment may be OK if the California High Speed Rail Authority gets a waiver of the Environmental Impact Report CEQA requirements, or the Authority completes the process. The counsel’s interpretation of what may be defined as a “useable segment” for funding purposes is a bit creative.
  2. The “Peninsula” segment between San Francisco and San Jose, if funded, will need to eventually become 4 tracked in order to comply with the 12 trains or 5 minute rule, required for funding. Dollars for the TransBay Terminal route in San Francisco are questionable at best.
  3. Funding to Southern California and agreements under Memorandums of Understanding between the transit agencies are uncertain, as the moneys may not be used merely to upgrade existing tracks.
  4. The courts cannot interfere on “appropriations” as that is a duty reserved for the Legislature, but may on what can be appropriated for whom. The Governor’s and Senate request in Senate Bill 1029 asks for $8 billion plus some change to fund High Speed Rail until 2018. After 2018, who will be around that understands the plan?

In the quest to make a deal the Legislature is being asked to support spending $8 Billion for a plan that:

  1. Tears up prime agricultural land in the Central Valley, displacing business, homes and water infrastructure for 130 miles of track.  The Valley needs improvements to Highway 99, the main method of transport and travel, as well as a connection via train from Bakersfield south to Palmdale, which is only given lip service.
  2. Temporarily spares the cities and residents of the Peninsula along the Caltrain corridor of 4 tracks vs. the two at present.  But the San Francisco-San Jose corridor will eventually need to expand to meet passenger timing and train trips and also accommodate freight operators.
  3. Requires Southern California to pay, although it is clear that the existing bond and/or plan will provide little if any help with improving existing rail and upgrading facilities in Orange, Riverside and San Diego Counties, where the bulk of the state’s population is and continues to grow. These counties need basic infrastructure improvements to roads, highways and other methods of usable transportation in suburban areas, as well as improved regional rail service and connecting transportation options to and from urban areas.

To summarize the plan has something for everyone, but unlike the verse from the Rolling Stones classic, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…”  you don’t even get what you need.