In Part One of this HSR series, I made a conservative-Republican argument for California high speed rail. In Part Two, I sketched a portrait of the CHSRA (the Authority) as an out-of-control agency that must be shut down, immediately.
In this final piece, I will sketch a vision for a reformed California system so that high speed rail (HSR) is built right. This is a grandiose undertaking, but someone has to point a way forward.
Shutting down the current CHRSA Authority is possible given the polling numbers, but won’t be easy. The anti-CHSRA forces must unite, forge a coalition and begin to share strategy and tactics. One pressure point will be the first-spade-of-dirt ceremonies this summer.
Just this week CHSRA accepted the low bid for the 130 mile Central Valley segment from a contractor who (miracle of miracles!) came in well below the expected price of $1.3 to $1.8 billion at $985 million. The anti-coalition needs to be at ground breaking in force.
Busloads of SF peninsula NIMBYs meeting busloads of angry Tea Partiers. Upset farmers on tractors and in dump trucks. Fox News. ABC, NBC, CBS. The SF Chronicle, the LA Times, the Sacto, Fresno and Modesto Bees. A protest circus to embarrass and harass the dignitaries. What the hell, perhaps even some tame middle class civil disobedience…
None of the above will work of course. Which is why an initiative must be drafted for the 2014 ballot to allow the voters to shut down the System and then rebuild HSR—if they decide to— from the ground up and from the grassroots.
It is quite amazing what the citizen-grassroots has done so far. There is a depth and a determination in this fight that is quite spectacular. The booster site USHSR has a page devoted to “Heroes of High Speed Rail,” with a rouges gallery of self congratulatory engineer-bureacrats and politicians (Gavin Newsom’s mayoral press conference for the Transbay Terminal is particularly galling; the terminal just won an ugliest building prize).
But the true heroes of HSR are the scores of citizen activists who are trying to shut down or save the out-of-control project.
I have great confidence in the informed, articulate, energetic and committed ordinary citizens of California who have devoted blood, sweat and tears to fighting the HSR juggernaut. If I were to help draft an initiative, it would put these citizens front and center, with the collective power to plan and monitor a new California HSR system.
But citizens are only part of what is lacking to save HSR in the Golden State. The other absent party is the private sector. With the exception of consultant-contractors, there is zero private sector involvement.
Prop 1A, the HSR enabling legislation, was sold to voters as a $9 billion bond deal with Federal matching dollars and private sector investors picking up at least 20% of the cost. But the project is so dicey no private money is coming in. And that’s largely from the gross incompetence of the bureacrats who’ve been running CHSRA.
Richards and Morales, the “turn around team” has belatedly realized that other HSR systems have as much as 30% private investment from many profit centers like real estate, system operators, vendors, etc. But to date, no business development effort appears to have been made.
Beyond the obvious private sector tie-ins an entrepreneurial biz-dev team might find many investors.
An early Texas HSR was scuttled by the powerful Southwest Airlines through political clout because the airline knew it stood to lose business to trains. This time, why not ask Southwest, Virgin Air and Jet Blue to invest as system operators and transportation corporations. That way, they make a profit in the new market rather than being potentially wiped out.
FedEx and UPS should be invited to invest. UPS with 233 jets has the world’s sixth largest airline. Get the package giants into a bidding war for SF to LA HSR freight runs from midnight to 4 AM at a fraction of the cost of their present transport system.
Get Avis, Hertz and Dollar bidding for HSR station slots. Ditto cab companies, jitney firms, restaurants, billboards, banks, etc. Even if contracts are not signed, non-binding MOUs would create business press and excitement about the profit potential of millions of affluent rider-consumers in a captive space.
And finally, the HSR system needs reliable funding.
Brown threw a Hail Mary pass in 2012 claiming cap and trade money could be used to finance the gigantic hole in HSR funding. But the LAO shot this down; they found the scheme illegal with cap-trade dollars earmarked for GHG (green house gas) reductions and HSR a net emitter to build the system.
But there is a humongous potential source of funds… taxes on the Monterey Shale Formation deposits. If California wants HSR, we should frack this natural resource bonanza in an environmentally sensitive way and build the world class HSR system that will create decades of economic boom. A USC report says $24 billion in taxes and 2.8 million new jobs by 2020. $24 billion is exactly the funding hole for HSR.
I challenge our GOP legislators in Sacramento to write the bill and aggressively champion a large Monterey Shale earmark tax for infrastructure. Our GOP infrastructure legislation should include a smart car standard for automated freeways. Google is moving aggressively on GPS smart cars but we need government standards, a system like air traffic control, and liability-insurance laws.
I challenge our GOP congressional delegation to make a deal with the Obama Administration for limited Federal funding of HSR in trade for a Monterey Shale green light. The GOP is in the driver’s seat, but if the Tea Party congress is swept away we lose our poker hand. Should we play our aces or wait till a garbage hand is dealt by voters? Well, is the Tea Party congress eternal?
Lastly, I hope a Republican gubernatorial candidate runs on a Monterey Shale and HSR smart car infrastructure platform to confound the Democrats in 2014.
One final whisper like the word “plastics” in the The Graduate.
Evacuated tube transport (ETT). HSR has a 50 year timeline. HSR merely secures the rights of way. The really smart money will be on maglev ETT and China is developing it. A Sputnik moment anyone?