After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the replacement span for the Bay Bridge was originally expected to be completed by 1994 and cost less than a billion dollars. To say that those responsible for this project missed their targets would be a gross understatement. With broken bolts and all, the bridge still isn’t open and now its projected cost is over $6 billion.
So who is responsible? As for the delay, political meddling by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown insisting on a “world class” bridge and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s leveraging the Treasure Island anchorage point as a bargaining chip have to assume some share of blame for the decade delay.
Add to that CalTrans’ bureaucratic incompetence. CalTrans, simply put, wanted to show that it could take on a huge public works project. This resulted in a bureaucratic turf war with the vested interests in the state capitol winning out over common sense and the public interest.
Keeping the design and materials approval process within CalTrans is exactly why we have what we have today — designs were selected because of political decisions. Materials decisions were left up to politically connected bureaucrats. And the endless delays mean that the five-year bridge has now taken 25 years so that a CalTrans employee could have spent his or her entire career, and started collecting a pension, simply by working on this one project. In short, the current system incentivizes delay. And yet, have you heard of anyone being fired for any of this gross incompetence?
Now, let’s take what happened with the Bay Bridge and extrapolate it to High Speed Rail (HSR). There is absolutely no reason to believe that the same problems won’t repeat themselves.
First, the way California government conducts business, the longer this goes on, and the more delays we see, the more rewards there are for the people building the system. None of that culture has changed in Sacramento.
Second, just like when Jerry Brown objected to the original Bay Bridge plan because of his insistence on a world-class bridge, look what happened when his own team was brought in to reevaluate the rail plan. His team finished their evaluation and announced the new plan would cost $95 billion (or roughly triple what voters were told when they approved the HSR ballot measure.)
When the public rightfully went ballistic over the price, Brown made them go back and lower the price to $65 billion. HSR tried to cover up the sudden reduction by claiming this was now a “blended” plan, (which violates the provisions of the ballot measure) but when the Anaheim supporters threw a tantrum because the Anaheim leg wasn’t in the $65 billion plan, HSR went back and included the Anaheim leg, but didn’t increase the $65 billion estimate!
So they want us to believe the L.A.-Anaheim leg isn’t going to cost anything? Really? Politics and vested interests are driving HSR, not responsible management.
To recap: It took our dysfunctional state government 25 years and $6.4 billion to build a 4-mile bridge they told us would take just five years and less than a billion. Nobody has been held accountable for this colossal failure and waste of money. Now, the same cast of characters is telling us they’re going to a build a 400-mile HSR system, which will include dozens of bridges and tunnels, right of way purchases, environmental reviews (and delays) track, power delivery systems, operating systems, stations, and trains, and it’s going to do all that in the same amount of time and at just 10 times the cost of their half-a-bridge in San Francisco Bay.
No one in their right mind would believe such a claim. So, California, are you ready for your trillion dollar train?
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.