Even Liberal Reporters Sour on Stimulus-Funded California Rail Boondoggle

Even reporters at the famously-liberal Los Angeles Times have soured on California’s $100 billion-plus rail boondoggle, whose cost will far outstrip whatever the state will get from the $800 billion stimulus package to build it.  But the paper’s editorial board, which supported the stimulus package, continues to back the project, which has ballooned in cost from $33 billion to over $100 billion.  (Managing to see the bright side of even the most pernicious government waste, the paper’s board cited other boondoggles with approval, like Boston’s disastrous Big Dig project, which resulted in motorist fatalities. It praised that infamous project for replacing “what used to be an expressway” with “a downtown park”, despite the fact that it caused “severe delays” for motorists and had a skyrocketing price tag of more than $15 billion.)

But as its own reporter, Steve Lopez, recently noted, there is no telling how much the project will ultimately cost, or when it will actually be completed:

The projected completion date has gone from 2020 to 2033. The anticipated cost has ballooned to as high as $117 billion, and no one seems to have a clue where the bulk of the money would come from. The state auditor and the state Legislative Analyst’s Office have raised serious concerns, and the rail authority’s own peer review group said the project represents “an immense financial risk” to the state. And two weeks ago, the railroad authority’s top executive resigned.To top it off, a poll last fall said nearly two-thirds of registered voters would run this train off the rails if they had a chance to vote again.

The rail project won’t even be useful or economically viable once it’s finished, since travelers will be able to travel more cheaply by road or air than by taking the train.  As syndicated columnist Amy Alkon notes, “this is a totally unnecessary train (and I say that as a train lover). It’s $59 from LA to SF on Southwest if you book in advance,” less than a train ticket will likely cost.  And although the project is misleadingly called a “high-speed” rail project, it turns out that “the train couldn’t really run high speed” after all.

As Tim Cavanaugh noted in Reason, the Los Angeles Times reporter, Steve Lopez, had

the good fortune to answer to the newsroom rather the opinion section, where bullet-train belief still reigns as supremely as it does in Gov. Jerry Brown’s rumpus room. The important thing is that one more prominent Golden State blowhard is sealing the case against the vacant and bankrupt high-speed rail project. . . . In a piece I missed earlier this month entitled “Keeping faith with California’s bullet train,” the ed board praised the High-Speed Rail project because it is similar to Boston’s notorious Big Dig and the building of the pyramids by slaves.

The Obama Administration still supports this boondoggle even though it has been criticized by other liberal newspapers like the Washington Post.  That paper, which has not endorsed a Republican for President since 1952, criticized the project in an editorial entitled “California’s High-Speed Rail System Is Going Nowhere Fast.”

As we noted earlier, the small fraction of the stimulus package that was earmarked for transportation was devoted disproportionately to laying the groundwork for wasteful “high-speed” rail boondoggles that are not actually “high” in speed. These multibillion dollar rail boondoogles would provide work at inflated wages for politically-powerful unions. But these projects are expensive white elephants that would be used by very few travelers at an enormous cost per mile, and not enable trains to go anywhere near as fast as they do in Europe, Japan, or China. (Other union-backed provisions in the stimulus package wiped out jobs in America’s export sector.)

Obama relied on exaggerated claims to push through the stimulus package, claiming it was needed to prevent an “irreversible decline” in the economy,  even though the Congressional Budget Office admitted that the stimulus package would shrink the economy “in the long run.” Even an old-fashioned Keynesian stimulus might have been something that America could not afford at a time of record deficits. The Congressional Budget Office, ignoring various flaws in the stimulus package, argued that it would boost the economy in “the short run.” But even the CBO conceded that the stimulus would shrink economic output in “the long run” by increasing the national debt and thus crowding out private investment.