Last Thursday, the California State Auditor released its much anticipated audit of the High Speed rail project. Opponents of the project had pushed for an audit for several years, but had always in the past been rebuffed with no support to authorize any audit from the State’s Democratic controlled transportation committees, in both the Assembly and the Senate. Governor Brown wanted nothing to do with such an audit.

Nevertheless, finally last January the pressure to authorize an audit had grown so high from the public, which had been alerted to huge cost overruns and delays, the Legislature finally agreed to a “limited in scope audit” of the HSR project and the Authority. Kudos must go to Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, who relentlessly pushed for this audit.

Results from this audit amount to revealing nothing less than a bombshell of adverse actions and accountability of the Authority, much of which has now been documented by recent media coverage.

A few highlights are:

Lack of transparency
No useful supervision of awarded contracts
No hope the project can meet travel time spelled out in Prop 1A
$600 Million in cost over runs thus far due to inept planning

The Auditor released the report to the Authority 1 month ago, with 17 problem areas that needed to be addressed. The Authority responded agreeing to fix all of these problems.

Previous audits beginning in 2010 gave numerous notices of problem areas that needed to be fixed and again at that time the Authority responded they would be fixed.

Will this report finally result in this hopeless project being halted? Based on all the past adverse findings, there is certainly no assurance that the project will be stopped. Indeed despite over 10 years of reports from the Legislative Analyst, the State Auditor and critical media coverage, especially from the LA Times by Ralph Vartabedian and the Fresno Bee, from Tom Sheehan, the project has plowed ahead. Much of this was due to the unwavering support from Governor Brown, who is now about to leave office.

Will the new Governor elect, Gavin Newsom halt the project? He certainly has that power, with the appointment of 5 of the 9 Authority Board members under his control.

Among the strong proponents of the project is Jim Beall, chair of the State Senate Housing and Transportation committee. He obviously is not swayed in the least by the Auditor’s report. From a discussion of the report on KPCC, Airtalk, with Larry Mantle, Beall wrote in with this:

The high speed rail project is crucial to California’s economic future. It will transform our transportation system reduce greenhouse emissions and ease commutes to job centers such as Silicon Valley. As with any big infrastructure project there are challenges. The state auditor’s report provide sound recommendations that we can apply to increase efficiencies not only for high speed rail but other major state construction projects I look forward to working on them

Beall also sits on the Authority’s board as an ex-official member.

Interviewed on the Airtalk discussion, was USC professor, James Moore, a true professional in civil engineering. He didn’t mince his words, saying in response to a question of risk in the project:

I would argue that if for risk to exist there has to be at least two possibilities to be considered. There’s no possibility of the project being a success, even if it is completed, so the risk is that given the fact that it can’t succeed, cannot operate without a subsidy, which under law it must, it cannot deliver the technical performance that was called out in Prop 1A. Even without the blended segments it can’t operate in the fashion that was described the voters when they were asked to approve the bond measure.

So it would really seem the bottom line on continuing or stopping the project falls completely on the shoulders of Newsom. Will he read and listen and take appropriate action to stop project?

Note should be made that a joint hearing on the Auditor’s report has been set by the Assembly Transportation committee for Nov. 29th, at 10 am.

A summary of the audit is here.

The full report is here.

A one page Fact Sheet is here.