Great news: $98 billion estimate for California high-speed rail is lowball

posted at 5:20 pm on November 5, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier this week, we updated our coverage of the largest proposed public-works project in American history to note that its estimated cost had almost tripled in three years, from $33 billion to $98.6 billion, as well as more than doubling in delivery time — and this before the project has even begun.  The state agency responsible for this boondoggle officially submitted their funding request to the California state legislature on Thursday, as the Los Angeles Times notes in an otherwise dull recapitulation of the news from earlier in the week.  In fact, you have to get to the bottom of the article to see where the LAT buried the lede (via Instapundit):

A bullet train business plan released Tuesday notes that the system cost of $98 billion could jump an additional $19 billion depending on the route and construction features.

Wait — what?  The California High Speed Rail Authority board has the responsibility to make the decisions on “routes and construction features.”  They can’t get any closer than 20% play in the numbers? What exactly did the CHSRA submit on Thursday … a letter to Santa Claus?

So what exactly are these variables that will add more than half as much cost as the project’s original price tag?  Shag carpeting, spoilers on the caboose, quadrophonic stereo … what?  The LAT doesn’t tell us; they just wait until the last paragraph to report that CHSRA warns that their projections require 20% play in the numbers.

Needless to say, the exploding cost has a few people pretty steamed.  If one reads the story in reverse paragraph order (which is apparently what the LAT intends), the third paragraph has one Republican state senator promising to push a bill that will allow taxpayers to reverse their earlier approval for bonding measures for the project, presumably through a referendum.  It also includes this very short-sighted criticism of the high-speed rail plan from an activist:

 Other critics asserted the project was no longer the $33-billion project presented to voters three years ago. “This is the biggest bait and switch in California history,” Charles Voltz, a member of the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, told board members.

Oh, come now, Mr. Voltz.  You’re obviously not thinking big-picture here.   Demanding as much as $117 billion for a train track that runs along the San Andreas Fault, which will at first only connect Corcoran and Borden, and eventually provide heavily-subsidized transportation between California’s two largest metropolises in a longer time than at least a half-dozen airlines already deliver without taxpayer subsidies is not the biggest bait and switch in California history.  This is the biggest bait and switch in human history.

Update: Actually, second-biggest.  As Sharrukin says in the comments, TARP would be the biggest bait-and-switch in human history.  Remember when Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program?  How many troubled assets did it actually purchase, and how much of it went into direct-cash bailouts to financial institutions and carmakers?

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