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From San Diego to San Francisco, the rail-obsessed Golden State's on track to nowhere fast with runaway projects.

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California’s Goofy Train Fixation Could Bankrupt the Country

From San Diego to San Francisco, the rail-obsessed Golden State’s on track to nowhere fast with runaway projects.


Ronny and the Daytonas 1964 hit song “G.T.O.” (“three deuces and a four-speed, and a 389”) was the beach culture anthem to the freedom of convertible cars, the open road, and California’s endless summer. 
 
In the ’60s, Gov. Pat Brown didn’t talk about building infrastructure, he built it.  On time and on budget.  Especially the freeways.  California’s population exploded but Brown, and Ronald Reagan after him, kept building ahead of need the finest freeway system in the world.
 
Pat’s son Jerry and California’s liberal elites decided in the 1970s that the party was over.  Era of Limits.  The population kept coming, but the infrastructure investment stopped.  The freeways were canceled but people kept buying cars.  The environmental movement triumphed.  Congestion, frustration and  pollution followed.
 
Not to worry.  California’s liberal elites had the solution:  Back to the future.  Cars from the 20th century should be replaced with 19th century trains and trolleys.  The liberals brave new world for California meant you had to abandon the GTO and line up for the “new and improved” (union-built and operated) public bus and train systems
 
California government, after fostering the car culture for decades, did an about-face and started making it as expensive and annoying to own, operate, maintain and park your car as possible.  Voter discontent with this betrayal finally surfaced when skyrocketing car registration fees became a principal factor in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.
 
One of the first train systems built in California in the 1970s was the San Diego Trolley from downtown to the Mexican border.  Mayor Pete Wilson’s trolley was built frugally on existing train right-of-way, came in on time and almost on budget.  It’s annual operating budget was nearly covered by fare-paying customers.  It was the last such project to meet these criteria.
 
Expansion of the San Diego Transit (bus and trolley) system in later decades proved costly and ineffective.  To this day, less than 4% of commuter traffic is carried on a system that eats up well over half of the transportation dollars allocated to San Diego County.
 
Undeterred by experience and commuter preference, California planners pushed ahead.
 
Where else would mass transit work better than in densely developed San Francisco?  The Bay Area Rapid Transit trains provided relief for suburban commuters clogging the Golden Gate and Bay bridges during rush hour and sparked a downtown San Francisco office building boom.  But buses clogged San Francisco’s surface streets, especially in tightly packed areas like the city’s famous Chinatown.
 
Currying favor with increasingly powerful Chinatown leaders, and playing to the mass transit fixated-liberals, Mayor Willie Brown convinced the city’s voters in 2003 to approve a sales tax increase to pay for a subway under Chinatown.
 
The 1.7-mile subway was promised to cost just (!) $647 million and take eight years to build.  Today the estimate is $1.6 billion (or nearly $100 million per one-tenth of a mile) and 10 years.
 
Worse yet, San Francisco wants Uncle Sap to pay for it.  The Obama Federal Transit Administration (from the Transportation bureaucracy that brought you the Transportation Security Administration and Cash for Clunkers) is on the verge of awarding San Francisco a New Starts grant of $942 million to cover 60% of the capital costs of this boondoggle.
 
Critics, including the San Francisco Grand Jury and the Wall Street Journal, point out that the Chinatown subway misses connections with 25 of the 30 light rail and bus lines that it crosses, and there’s no direct connection to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).  Commuters descend eight stories to the subway, ride half a mile, then walk a quarter mile to connect with Market Street light rail lines.  Perfect!
 
Before you nominate the Chinatown subway for the cut list being contemplated by the congressional Super Committee of 12, add the next California example to your shopping cart.
 
The voter-approved (2008!) California High Speed Rail Project has the potential to bankrupt both the state and the nation.
 
The dream is to link Northern and Southern California with high-speed trains.  “LA to SF in 2 hours and 40 minutes!”  “LA to San Diego in 80 minutes!”  WTF to Bankruptcy faster than a speeding bullet!
 
Voters were promised a $33 billion price tag.  After the 2008 election, the estimate surged to $43 billion.  The deadline for qualifying for Obama stimulus money has forced proponents to actually break ground on the project by next year.  For political reasons, the first segment to be built will connect the farming communities of Borden and Corcoran in the Central Valley.  Where?  Exactly.
 
The project is wildly out of control.  Corcoran (pop. 25,000) is 174 miles north of Los Angeles, Borden is 140 miles north of Corcoran and 167 miles south of San Francisco.  Connecting these two rural areas was to cost $6.3 billion—$3.5 billion of that from the feds.  Recent estimates by the California High Speed Rail Authority put the current cost at $10 billion to $13.9 billion. 
 
This is California’s “Train to Nowhere.”
 
To please union backers and fulfill the public transportation fantasies of the lunatic environmental activists, Gov. Jerry Brown is back in office to fulfill his destiny as the evil flip side to his father. 
 
Fifty years ago, California was a natural paradise that beckoned people from all over the world with perfect weather and the opportunities of the free market.  Gov. Pat Brown complimented the natural beauty and the vibrant private economy by building roads, schools and waterworks that made the California lifestyle the envy of the world.
 
Today, the free market is being strangled by Pat Brown’s son Jerry and a liberal legislature.  The schools are in a death spiral.  The roads and freeways are crowded and crumbling.  The sun still comes out every day, but unemployment tops 12%, crime is on the rise, and the liberal elites dream of fast trains the whole country can’t afford to build.
 
When restored 1964 GTOs command six figures at collector car shows here, it’s not just nostalgia.  It’s political protest.

Written By

Roger Hedgecock is a nationally-syndicated talk show host.

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