California High Speed Rail officials and the Governor’s office seem to be suffering from selective hearing. Lawmakers and experts at the University of California’s Institute of Transportation continue to challenge the high-speed rail project’s viability due to precarious statistical projections on ridership and cost. One wonders if developers will reconsider upon hearing California treasurer Bill Lockyer’s recent criticisms.
Lockyer’s first major issue lies with the basics: the ability to raise enough capital from private sources needed to complete the project. The Rail Authority claims it would need $10 to $12 billion from private investment alone, although some analysts think that, like most of the monetary figures associated with the rail line, this number will ultimately grow. Investors are reluctant to fund such a risky venture, as nothing proposed in this project has proven stable or certain. If investors do indeed close their checkbooks, there is no way the Rail Authority will complete the project.
Lockyer doesn’t think selling the idea in smaller chunks would work either. He questions the willingness of anyone to buy state bonds for the HSR, even though voters approved $9.95 billion worth in November 2008.
Despite these reservations, Governor Schwarzenegger is protecting the funding promises made in the 2008 ballot measure. The Rail Authority is also ignoring the warnings of Lockyer and others. They are also trying to start building in the Bay Area in order to meet deadlines for federal funding. But the way things are going, it looks as if federal funding is all they will get. As more and more powerful people add their names to the list of skeptics, the high-speed rail line seems that much closer to complete failure.
Rather than overriding their critics and spending money they may not get, the Rail Authority should invest in consumer confidence. They need more concrete plans and more promising statistics to create a market for this line because right now, most think the project will turn out to be nothing more than a huge budgetary debacle.