Pandemic Has Not Locked Down California’s Bullet Train Spending

“California’s High-Speed Rail Is the Very Definition of a Boondoggle,” headlined a commentary by Adam B. Summers nearly one year ago. Plagued from the start by fanciful assumptions, the costs “quickly ballooned from $40 billion or $45 billion to $98.5 billion,” and Gov. Gavin Newsom said the project would “cost too much and take too long.” Embattled Californians might wonder, how the project is faring during the lockdown the governor proclaimed on March 19.

“Transportation and infrastructure are exempted from the Governor’s recent Executive Order,” explains Micah Flores of the High Speed Rail Authority in a May 29 email, and “even during all the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Authority continues to advance this project in a very meaningful way.”

The number of workers has “gone up nearly four-fold, from 217 in the first quarter of 2019 to more than 866 in the last week of April 2020,” Flores continues. In addition, “more and more guideways are opening for construction, and our monthly expenditures on construction are up from $22 million per month in early 2019 to nearly $70 million through March 2020.”

As I noted last July, even if built according to the original plan, the bullet train would be slower and more expensive than air travel. The train has yet to carry a single passenger, but the rail authority maintains a Sacramento headquarters, and three regional offices. After examining the project in 2018, State Auditor Elaine Howle titled her report California High-Speed Rail Authority: Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction. Even so, according to Micah Flores, state government is still all aboard. 

“We’re also continuing to advance the environmental work for all segments of the Phase 1 project from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim. We will certify the second Record of Decision in the last year this September, and we continue to release draft environmental documents for the remaining segments this summer and into 2021.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.
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