California lawmakers and witnesses at a congressional hearing today voiced growing concerns and frustrations with a proposed California project in the Administration's high-speed rail program that has recently seen its cost and construction time projections increase dramatically compared to earlier estimates.
Today's hearing was the second in a series over the past two weeks focusing on missteps in the Obama Administration's rail program initially funded by the Stimulus. With other large proposed projects under the program having been rejected by their state's governors, the California project remains one of the most high profile in the program that is funding no other projects with any real high-speed potential.
"I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, which is why I was initially encouraged when the President first announced that the nation would invest in developing this form of transportation," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica. "If done right, in a region of the country that makes sense like the Northeast Corridor, we could have launched a successful model for how to build high-speed rail in the United States. Unfortunately the Administration's program turned out to be a bait-and-switch. Almost all of the money has gone to modest Amtrak projects, and now the only project selected that had a chance of offering true high-speed passenger rail -- the California project -- is turning out to be a disaster.
"Because the project's cost is soaring, the amount of time to complete it is growing, and the segment chosen to be built first will not even be able to run high-speed trains, the project is imploding," Mica added. "I am concerned that the nation could spend a huge amount of money on a project that will not result in a high-speed rail success."
"I am deeply concerned about this project," said Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster. "In addition to the project's soaring costs, I am particularly concerned about the route selection. The right place to start our investment in passenger rail in California is in the LA basin, the most densely populated area of the state and home to crippling congestion. For approximately half the cost of the $3 billion in federal funds that appears to be on the way to being wasted on the Central Valley initial construction segment, higher speed rail improvements connecting Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County that significantly reduce trip times, increase service, and cut down chronic highway congestion could be put in place in the near- to mid-term. These are the type of common sense corridors that we should be investing in and that would attract both increased ridership and investments from the private sector."
"The California high-speed rail project of today is vastly different from the one California voters narrowly approved in 2008," said U.S. Rep. and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, a panel witness at the hearing. "Since that vote, the cost of building the system has more than doubled -- to nearly $100 billion -- the timeline has been pushed back over a decade, and the people of California are fed up. A recent poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Californians want to vote again, and given the chance, they would vote no. The concerns raised today about California's high-speed rail plan are ones that cannot be ignored, and I thank the Chairman and Committee for their oversight and commitment to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used responsibly."
"With a population that is expected to grow by twenty-five percent in the next fifteen years, it is vital that we address California's future transportation needs," said Transportation Committee Member Gary Miller. "However, with the national debt now exceeding $15 trillion and the state continuing to grapple with double-digit billion dollar budget deficits, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and effectively. I thank Chairman Mica for holding this hearing today to address growing concerns about the rail line's soaring cost and future ridership projections. With billions of dollars on the line, it is essential that these issues surrounding the project's feasibility be addressed as soon as possible."
"The California High-Speed Rail project has spun so drastically out of control even California voters are questioning its viability," said U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, also a Member of the Transportation Committee. "The project is so far from the original proposal that according to a report from the Legislative Analyst's Office, the business plan does not even meet important requirements of the ballot initiative approved by California voters. I want to create jobs and expand upon our transportation portfolio, but we must be responsible for how we are spending taxpayer dollars. As we learned in today's hearing, the Rail Authority can no longer ignore the facts that the project is lacking oversight and a disciplined plan to attract the private sector investment it needs."
"At a time when the federal government is $15 trillion dollars in debt, borrowing money hand over fist from China to bail us out, we simply cannot afford to throw money at a train to nowhere," said U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who testified at today's hearing. "If the federal government is going to devote money to California's infrastructure development and improvement, it's illogical to start with the creation of this costly and unnecessary high-speed train project."
"I am grateful that Chairman Mica and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure gave opponents of high-speed rail from the San Joaquin Valley of California the opportunity to speak their minds," said Congressman Devin Nunes, who also presented testimony today. "Congress needed to be fully briefed on the skyrocketing costs and unrealistic goals of high-speed rail in California. We need to look for better options such as freight rail and other transportation projects that are more beneficial when compared to this project."
The Committee also heard from a number of additional witnesses, including the Federal Railroad Administration, the California High Speed Rail Authority, the mayors of Tustin and Fresno, the Kings County Community Development Agency, Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, and Preserve Our Heritage. For the prepared testimony of today's witnesses, background information, and video of the hearing, click here.