HSR Critics Out Themselves As HSR Opponents
By Robert Cruickshank
You would think that a plan to build high speed rail that is $30 billion cheaper than the previous iteration and provides desperately needed post-oil travel between California’s metropolitan areas sooner would be one that HSR critics would embrace.
Instead, the usual suspects are lining up to attack Governor Jerry Brown’s revisions to the high speed rail project – even those whose ideas are the core underpinnings of the proposal:
“We are a matter of weeks away from various budget deadlines,” state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said Saturday. “When the cost estimates are up and down and up and down by orders of magnitude here, I think folks are going to want to make sure we spend some time to understand how reliable are these figures, and what’s the basis for the new estimate.”
Simitian, chairman of the budget subcommittee considering high-speed rail, said the authority “seems to have been listening and making an effort to be responsive.”
But the Legislature, he said, is unlikely to appropriate funding as quickly as Brown hopes.
“I think we’re going to have to look past the June 15 budget adoption date,” he said.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said legislative approval of the plan on Brown’s time frame would require a “heroic effort.”
“It’s the biggest capital project in the history of the state, and it should be done properly,” he said. “Given that the numbers have bounced around so much, it’s a lot to ask.”
In launching these attacks, these supposed critics are revealing themselves to in fact be opponents of high speed rail. If they wanted simply to improve the project, they’d be praising the effort and pledging to hammer out the details. But by instead denouncing the plan, they’re tipping their hand and showing the public that their actual goal is to kill high speed rail.
In fact, as Californians For High Speed Rail Executive Director Daniel Krause pointed out, the governor’s plan includes things Simitian helped create – namely, the blended plan that allows trains to serve LA and SF more quickly by using existing tracks:
“A core tenet of this plan – the blending of HSR and commuter rail – was an idea generated by Senator Simitian, along with Assemblymember Rich Gordon, and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to reduce costs and impacts. As a result, the plan is much better because of this dialogue.
“Given the months of dialogue and negotiation with lawmakers, we are baffled by recent statements by Senators Joe Simitian and Mark DeSaulnier’s indicating a desire to delay the decision to fund HSR in the state budget.
“While certainly the details of the plan need to be reviewed, we strongly oppose any attempts to delay the HSR funding vote by Senators Simitian and DeSaulnier. These Senators have a deep knowledge of this plan as they helped to craft it. Pleading ignorance about a plan they have helped to create gives the impression they are playing politics with California’s future. We urge them to move forward without delay.”
Krause is right to argue that Simitian and DeSaulnier are working to undermine the project by using these delaying tactics. And they’re also making it clear that their intention isn’t to improve the project but to undercut it.
That’s not the attitude that California legislators ought to be taking. High speed rail is an important part of California’s transportation future. If Senators Simitian and DeSaulnier see ways it can be improved, they ought to work collaboratively to pursue those changes, just as Simitian did with his blended plan. But instead these two are signaling they might join the Tea Party Republicans in dealing President Barack Obama a big political blow in an election year by trying to kill the high speed rail project.
Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics.com. You can follow him on Twitter @cruickshank or find him on Facebook. This article originally appeared on the California High Speed Rail blog.