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High Speed Rail Reality

I’m guessing Fresno City Hall will get a chance to show the nation how to unwind a massive infrastructure project that failed.

I’m talking about the bullet train. Building a nine-figure infrastructure project is hard. Unwinding a 12-figure infrastructure project that never got close to completion figures to test the best qualities in our leaders.

Most of us know by now that Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday in his first State of the State address announced that Sacramento’s commitment to the long-planned Bay Area-to-Southern California bullet train project must go into deep hibernation.

Fox News quoted the Governor as saying:

“Let’s be real. The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

If I correctly understand press reports of the Governor’s speech, the plan now is to shake up the leadership at the High-Speed Rail Authority and focus exclusively on building the Merced-to-Bakersfield portion.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand in a written statement on Tuesday said:

“It was important for Gov. Newsom to show support for the Central Valley today while bringing more accountability to this important project. I have always said that I would only support High Speed Rail as long as the budget pencils out, and I’m hopeful that the added accountability will help Fresno make the transformational connection with the Bay Area that this project has promised.”

Why even build the 160-mile stretch from Merced to Bakersfield?

NBC News quoted Newsom as saying:

“High-speed rail is much more than a train project. It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.”

It’s hard for me to grasp what’s going on here. Here are four quick guesses.

1.) The project’s momentum is gone.

2.) No one in the reformed High-Speed Rail Authority will find glory in fulfilling its duty to the Veterans Boulevard project.

3.) Orwell’s “memory hole” is a piece of fiction. The bullet train’s service from Merced to Bakersfield apparently would complement Amtrak’s Merced-to-Bakersfield service ($27 for one-way ticket, travel time approximately 3 hours 10 minutes). No one in America will be fooled into thinking that a multi-billion-dollar Merced-to-Bakersfield train service with slightly better delivery times (and perhaps not as many passenger stops) is a worthwhile adjustment to the grand bullet train visions spun for us over the past decade. The bullet train project will continue to unravel.

4.) Fresno City Hall’s shelves groan with plans (2035 general plan, Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan, Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, heavy maintenance facility plan to name but a few) that count on the full realization of the original bullet train vision to help boost them to success. At some point in the near future, City Hall leaders will hold a public hearing. They will debate with their constituents and among themselves how many years (or decades) they should let Sacramento hold hostage vast swaths of Fresno land and considerable amounts of municipal resources in anticipation of the successful completion of a bullet train project that now appears designed to serve no identifiable consumer need. Politician and citizen will then debate how to mend the physical and emotional wound that is California’s experiment with high-speed rail. The long hard work will begin. No one in Sacramento, the Bay Area or Southern California will care about our challenges.

Did anyone say Chinatown?

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is a contributor to The San Joaquin Valley Sun.

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