David Levinson on CalHSR and OPM and a big, fat, I told you so

David Levinson, the Transportationist, discusses a piece by Dan Walters in the SacBee about the blatant money pour into CalHSR.

Levinson’s comment:

This is an interesting act of Hubris on the part of the CAHSRA. If the entire line were to be funded with 100% certainty in short order, it would not matter which segment were built first, as they would all ultimately get built.

But 100% certainty is certainly lacking in this case, the funding stars are hardly aligned (much less the right-of-way acquired or the lawsuits settled). The risk is that this line will indeed be a line to approximately nowhere from nowhere. It will be great for the Fresno exurbanites living in Corcoran, Hanford, or Selma, or perhaps the dozens of tourists seeking to go to the Italian Swiss Colony outside of Madera.

Like Cortés who scuttled his ships to eliminate any idea of retreat, the authority is burning the public’s money on a useless segment. (Unfortunately for the Aztecs, Cortés succeeded, others who unsuccessfully applied the same strategy are generally unmentioned in the history books). Presumably this is to help ensure further lines are built. (You have to build the rest to get anything useful).

First of all, here’s the website for the Italian Swiss Colony that David is referring to. Who would miss that? Today, Italian Swiss Colony, tomorrow, ABBAWORLD and the World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball!

How to respond? It’s hard to argue with people who are smarter than me, and David is definitely smarter than me. But here goes:

1. It’s fighting words to suggest that the San Joaquin Valley is “nowhere.” I suspect Dan Walters is going to get his fanny handed to him on that statement. People in rural places in California are a bit mysterious to me: they sort of feel like they are entitled to the same level of services provided in the urban coastal areas while living in small towns and farms. Rural Iowans, my peeps, don’t generally think this way: there’s city, and there’s country, and if you live in the country, you burn your own trash and drive your pick up and you don’t really expect there to be transit for you.

2. Nonetheless, even if the SJV isn’t exactly “nowhere”, a reasonable person might pause at spending $4 billion to build HSR there. Just saying.

3. I sooooooo predicted this. Gen Giuliano who generally knows all things will argue that she thought of this first, but she is wrong, as she so often is when she tries to claim she thought of something before me (Ha!)*. Last year at UCLA’s Alumni Dinner, I sat next to some insufferable dude who, when HSR came up and I winced, lectured and lectured me about how it would be The State’s Salvation. Sure, whatevs, but I made my prediction: CalHSR will slap down a segment in the SJV somewhere–just race to get something built, right away–and then give state senators little rides on the system—as an attempt to get something—anything—built as a proof of concept. Which they will then use to say “oh, sure, only four people ride it a day, but if you want riders, you have to get us the money to build the rest.”

Ohhhhh noooo nooo he told me, patting me on my head, the ignorant twit that I am. The first segment will connect Los Angeles and San Diego, he said knowingly. THAT’S the highest value segment. THAT will be a proof of concept.

So why is CalHSR doing what I predicted instead of what he predicted? Well, when you aren’t so helplessly politically naive that you don’t recognize the writing on the wall/enormous money grab that HSR is (and if you have experience building projects), you’ll see that this is the easiest segment to build. They don’t have any endangered species on their hands (yet; none that the EIR shows anyway); they don’t have to deal with the screaming and empowered opposition that they will encounter when they even whisper the proposed alignments for LA, San Jose, and San Francisco; and they have boosters on both ends of the things slavering to get the project done.

My next prediction: the project will mismanaged but not so grossly mismanaged that they are finally shut down by idiot California voters, who will give them another bond measure in five years.

*Just to put this in perspective, every time I say “I’m thinking about writing a paper about X,” Gen usually says something like “OH, I wrote that paper in 1989.” AND SHE DID.