Thursday, August 02, 2012

A High-speed Green-Labor Pipedream

Progressives are doubtless celebrating with Gov. Jerry Brown yet another victory for green ideology and union muscle over economic reality.

Three weeks ago Sacramento gave a 2.6 billion dollar send-off blessing to a high-speed rail system whose final cost estimate miraculously shrank from 98 to 68.4 billion dollars in the authority’s most recent business plan.

That .4 fraction (four-hundred million dollars) is a nice bureaucratic touch. It suggests to clueless Californians that the estimate is quite precise—a figure that taxpayers can take to the bank. Never mind that a politically-required recalculation had just lopped off almost 30 billion from the prior “guesstimate.”

A more reliable directional analogy for government-sponsored super-projects would be Boston’s “Big Dig”—a tunnel initially estimated to cost 2.6 billion dollars that wound up taking taxpayers to the cleaners for over 20 billion (including bond interest). But not to worry—much of that featherbedded tab was picked up by the flush-with-cash feds.

Brown and his green-union coalition hope for a reprise of that scenario with the ultra-fast choo-choo. Indeed, it’s doubtful that this ego-inflating legacy project would have been approved even by the economic illiterates in Sacramento were it not for free fed money—in this case 3.2 billion dollars.

Anyone who is confident that this monumental white elephant will be built within shouting distance of 68 billion dollars or will ever pay for itself, once constructed, should ponder this sentence that appears on the Rail Authority’s official web site:

“On November 1, 2012, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) released a Draft 2012 Business Plan (Draft Plan) for public review and comment.” The message goes on to say how public feedback was solicited and received for this November 1, 2012, draft—including more than 250 website comments.

Many Californians are aware that the aforementioned All Saints Day is three months in the future. One might think an error of this sort would have been corrected by now, but such corrections are only common in private businesses that, according to President Obama, aren’t really built by the folks who started them.

Few Californians are aware that the currently projected completion date for the much-heralded Los Angeles to San Francisco leg of the bullet train project is around the year 2027. (Don’t hold your breath.)

As one wag put it, by the time Phase 1 of the project is completed in 2029, unemployed residents of the Golden State will be able to zip from L.A. to San Francisco “for the price of a Southwest Airlines ticket…in twice the time it takes to fly.”

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