After Gavin Newsom seemed to throw shade on California’s high speed rail project in his State of the State address, opponents of the project jumped on the chance to push it into an early grave.
President Trump responded by gleefully offering to pull a billion dollars in federal funds, while the U.S. Department of Transportation threatened to claw back the 2.5 billion that California has already received for what the Federal Railroad Administration called the “now defunct” high speed rail project.
Then on Tuesday state Senator Jeff Stone (R-La Quinta), siding with the feds, announced his proposed legislation, SB 340, stopping the sale of any remaining general obligations bonds for the high speed rail project. His bill would allow any unspent funds to be used to retire already incurred debts from the issuance and sale of the bonds before being redirected to other projects.
“California’s High-Speed Rail is nothing more than the construction of an unsustainable and unachievable boondoggle dream,” said Stone, who recently defeated Joy Silver to win his second term after a surprisingly tough election in a dismal year for Republicans. “California’s bullet train project has gone off the rails. It’s time to stop pouring good money after bad.”
“The Governor has rightfully admitted the promises made to voters in 2008 when they narrowly approved Proposition 1A have been broken,” Stone added,” and it seems clear now is the time to cut bait and admit the fantasy has failed.”
Another Republican, state Senator John Moorlach (R-Orange County), responded with an alternative solution for faster travel between the state’s major northern and southern cities – a California Autobahn.
“The stats prove that driving in Germany is safer,” Moorlach said, according to the Desert Sun, “And, there’s less congestion.”
Germany’s traffic death rate is less than half that of the United States.
Moorlach’s plan, set out in SB 319, would add two lanes over 235 miles of I-5 and highway 99 from Bakersfield to Stockton, allowing drivers to go as fast as they dared.
Some have pointed out the hidden benefit of this approach – increased tourism.
It would be the only road in the US without a speed limit, the first of its kind since Montana reversed its ‘no daytime speed limit’ law in 1999. California could find drivers with a need for speed drawn to the state just to experience the thrill of pushing their car to the limit.
Others envision an anarchic Mad Max scenario where irresponsible drivers ignore basic safety rules in search of thrills, instead of a practical alternative—or addition – to waiting over a decade for high speed rail.
Since that speech, Newsom has issued statements meant to clarify his position on high speed rail. He said he did not mean to say the rail project was no longer going to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. The change was in the plan’s focus on completing the 110-mile stretch already underway in the Central Valley that will connect Merced and Bakersfield by 2027. The remaining segments connecting California’s two biggest cities will be re-evaluated once that portion is nearer to completion, to create “a spine from which the rest of the system can grow,” according to High Speed Rail advocate, Bay Area Council President and CEO, Jim Wunderman in a statement to abc7 News.
Newsom plans to complete the environmental reviews for the entire planned route, a requirement for keeping the federal funds California already received. That didn’t stop Ronald Batory of the Federal Railroad Administration from using what he called “a significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment” to start moving toward withdrawing federal funding.
California officials have until March 5 to challenge this process.