High Speed Revenue

For the most part, I do not think people want things to change. However, could you see living without highway 280, 85, 87 or 237? When building large transportation projects there always seems to be opposition of some sort. Government at all levels—local, state and federal—deems that certain projects have a higher value in the long term.

A current public transportation project that has been receiving attention lately is High Speed Rail (HSR). Last week, the city council discussed whether the trans should run above ground or underground.  The preferred choice among many in Northern California is to underground/tunnel the HSR.  However, it appears that the majority of elected officials support an above-ground structure. 

I have attended approximately 16 evening meetings regarding HSR. At first, the meetings were terrible with few answers and little data to answer audience questions. Over time, the quality of outreach and information has improved. It was through this process the HSR decided not to run the trains directly through the Gardner neighborhood, but rather hug highways 87 and 280. 

To tunnel or not to tunnel is both a financial and timing question that includes geological reality. A tunnel from the Diridon station to the 87/280 interchange will cost an additional $800 million to $1.2 billion and may add seven years to the project. In addition, not every piece of land and what is beneath the surface lends itself to tunnel. Downtown has its challenges with sandy soil and a shallow water table. So, a piece of land in one city is different then another city, just as some parts of San Jose have streets that sink and others do not.  (Wait till the Big One hits and liquefaction of soil happens in certain parts of San Jose.)

Some questions I asked at the council meeting were: “ How much does it cost to include a tunnel in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?” and “What more would we learn if the tunnel was included in the EIR?” The first response was “don’t know” and second response was hard to translate.

Another question I asked: “Where is the local money coming from since the City does not have any?” One response was “Well, maybe the City could make money from parking.” It sounds like we would have to find millions of dollars to build a parking garage and then promote driving your car and parking it over using public transportation—so my questions remained unanswered.

I believe our Mayor is doing a good job trying to manage an uncontrollable situation. Uncontrollable since the power in this decision does not rest with cities but rather with the state. I believe our state assembly and state senate have more power over a state agency then an individual city. We see that year after year the state takes RDA money from the cities.

It is highly unlikely there will be an underground tunnel due to cost and years and examples of issues that occurred with the “Big Dig” in Boston. Overall, I lack confidence on the HSR project since it will take $43 billion to $100 billion to build it out over time. To complete HSR will mean going back to the voters a few times for more money. I know from history that some projects take decades to complete, however you compound this on top of $500 billion in state pension liability and ask, “Where is the ability to pay?”

There is the hope to get a legal agreement with HSR that would allow San Jose to have a say in the architecture of an above-ground structure. There is good reason for HSR to agree since HSR would save money and years in construction. So if HSR would save $800 million to $1.2 billion, then they should allocate some of that money to San Jose for the architecture.

Everyone has a different view of what they like or do not like about architecture but we can agree on is that $100 million, for example, buys you some level of architecture. Since we know that the price tags on these projects grow and grow then we might want to assure a certain percentage of the build cost in that future year instead of an exact monetary figure.

On another topic, this week the council is posed to approve yet another rezoning of land to housing for an affordable housing project that does not pay property tax which has been the number one revenue for our city. How will we fund our police and libraries without property tax?

29 Comments

  1. > Overall, I lack confidence on the HSR project since it will take $43 billion to $100 billion to build it out over time. To complete HSR will mean going back to the voters a few times for more money. I know from history that some projects take decades to complete, however you compound this on top of $500 billion in state pension liability and ask, “Where is the ability to pay?”

    The reason that the voters of San Jose had the good fortune NOT to appoint me to the City Council by acclamation is that I would have long ago lost my patience amd mental stability in dealing with the moronic HSR kook burgers.

    If every little piss-ant burg along the route wants to have an HSR stop, it aint’t gonna be “HIGH SPEED”.

    If every little piss-ant burg wants to spend an additional $1.2 billion so that it’s little stretch of rail doesn’t annoy and offend the rich people living on the hill or enviro-wackos day-dreaming about pristine furbish lousworts, the price tag isn’t going to be $54 billion, it will be $54,000 billion.

    We will have to colonize other planets just to grow trees to make the hundred dollar bills to pay for this lunatic pipe-dream.

    HSR is DEAD! DEAD! DEAD! 

    It AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN!

    It’s time for someone to stand up at one of these absurd HSR planning clambakes and honestly tell the clueless Alzheimer’s patients: “It’s over.”

    “Go back to your homes.  There’s nothing more to see.”

    • I dunno VL,

      As someone who’s spent quite a bit of time on our assorted rail systems (bart/caltrain/vta LRT) I can honestly say we need something faster.  LRT is great if you’re going and coming from downtown SJ, but not for going crosstown from Almaden to Alum Rock.  Caltrain is much as you said about HSR, “If every little piss-ant burg along the route wants to have an HSR stop, it aint’t gonna be “HIGH SPEED”.”  Caltrain is a perfect example of this.

      BART, despite it’s age is still going strong, and perhaps could be a better model of what HSR should be. 

      I don’t think HSR is going to die simple because we do need it.  Public transit to anywhere outside of San Jose is painful at best.

      • > I don’t think HSR is going to die simple because we do need it.  Public transit to anywhere outside of San Jose is painful at best.

        For $50 billion dollars, you could buy personal jet packs or anti-gravity belts for everyone who wants to travel between LA and SF, and have 48 or 49 billion left over.

        Since I and many other Californians have other uses in mind for $50 billion dollars, like, oh say, rent and groceries, I’m willing to accept that public transit fans my have to endure some pain.

        Fortunately, we now have Obamacare, so in the spirit of free public healthcare, let me pass on to you President Obama’s advice for those enduring painful circumstances too expensive to warrant public support:  take a pain pill.

  2. http://www.protectsanjose.com/blogs/2-poa-perspectives/343-san-jose-residents-and-business-be-advised-city-to-shut-down-elite-gang-task-force-on-sunday

    So am I to assume that your priorities are in line with High speed rail? Bringing better access to out of town gang members and drug dealers is more important?

    How do you personally feel about the dissolution of VCET councilman? What exactly are you going to to about it? How will you make your district safer?

    The conduct of the council and the misguided direction is nothing short of appalling and reprehensible.

    • Officer Z,
      High Speed Rail is the topic today not unsustainable pensions that are cutting police and putting the next generation in debt.

      PL,
      I do not think we can afford bullet trains at this time because California is in the red.  Thank you for your vote.

    • But Officer Z, when the city has no money because it was spent on a new city hall, land for a baseball park, and now high speed rail, the city council and mayor will be able to blame the police department for the city’s economic woes. You know, the police department that is already the lowest staffed of any big city in the United States and whose officers pay the largest percentage of their own gross salary of any city towards their retirement in the United States.

  3. I keep hearing the city and state is broke. Is this true, and if so why is this even being considered at this time? This has the makings of an even bigger waste of money than our ridiculous city hall for which we are paying millions per year because the politicians just had to have it.

  4. For me, it’s not the above ground or tunnel approach – it’s simply the concept of HSR and the associated costs.  My thought is that anyone who endorses HSR most probably, when left alone, sits in the corner and drools.

  5. I would love to believe “Visualize Liberty” but my anxiety level won’t allow me to do so at this time. Living right next to the Union Pacific rails along the Monterey Highway corridor, I waffle between waiting for the eminent domain notice to come in the mail and wondering if I should plan to do those repair projects around my condo.

    One recent opinion article [http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_16107694 ] stated “Reaching a design agreement is the hard part, given difficulties of defining good design and the peril of setting precedents for other cities. But San Jose’s cooperation in other ways, including agreeing to make room for the line along the Monterey Highway corridor, merits special consideration.”

    If this blogger or others know specifically what this means [you’ve been to 16 meetings so I’m hoping you do], any clarification you have regarding the Monterey Corridor would be GREATLY appreciated.

    Thank you for what you do.

    • For Losing Sleep and other Monterey Road residents, the City of San Jose has indicated to HSR that the westernmost two lanes of Monterey Highway can be used for HSRA tracks. Monterey Road would be narrowed to four lanes. Yet, HSR is now in negotiation with UPRR and HSR may choose to share the alignment rather than buy SJ’s street. If you go to HSR Open House meetings and corner one of the senior guys (Gary Kennerley or Dave Mansen) they’ll tell you in detail what’s currently planned. I think there will be another meeting in November. A new report will be posted on October 8 at the California High Speed Rail website. It will be called “Draft Final Alternatives Analysis San Jose to Merced” and will be on the HSRA Agenda and found in the Library section. The report won’t get down to parcel level, but it will be more detailed than some of the maps you have seen in the newspaper. Or you can wait for the draft EIR in about March 2011 which will be quite specific. If you post a general description of your location, I can let you know what I’ve learned so far about your location.

  6. First it appeared as though all of the opposition to the CAHSR project was coming from NIMBYs on the Peninsula who were opposed to the train due to its potential to damage their communities.

    But perhaps due to this opposition, we have had several disinterested parties publishing reports with some criticism of the project. For example, have you read this report from the State legislative analyst’s office?
    http://www.lao.ca.gov/handouts/transportation/2009/High_Speed_Rail_Authority_03_17_09.pdf
    The LAO report found that the CAHSRA Business Plan lacks specific details and stated that the legislature should require more details from the high-speed rail authority.

    Then there is this report from the California State Auditor’s Office:
    http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2009-106.pdf
    This report is subtitled “It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management.”

    The state auditors stated “This report concludes that the High-Speed Rail Authority has not adequately planned for the future development of the program. For example, in its 2009 business plan, the Authority outlined the sources from which it expected to receive the funds necessary to meet the estimated $42.6 billion cost of the program. The Authority stated it would need $17 billion to $19 billion from the federal government; however, the Authority has received a federal commitment of only $2.25 billion. In addition, the business plan does not make clear which government would be responsible for a revenue guarantee needed to attract private investors, or how much it might cost. The program risks significant delays without more well-developed plans for obtaining funds.”

    Then the UC Berkeley University of California published a “Bay Area/California High-Speed Rail Ridership and Revenue Forecasting Study:”
    http://www.its.berkeley.edu/publications/UCB/2010/RR/UCB-ITS-RR-2010-1.pdf
    The authors of this report found that “Nevertheless we have found some significant problems that render the key demand forecasting models unreliable for policy analysis.” Yet CAHSRA is digging in its heels and standing by its dubious ridership predictions.

    Additionally, the pro-rail “California Rail News”
    http://www.calrailnews.com/crn/0910/crn0910.pdf
    http://www.calrailnews.com/crn/0610/crn0610.pdf
    http://www.calrailnews.com/crn/0110/crn0110.pdf
    features headlines such as “Can van Ark Reform HSRA?” “High-Speed Rail Gets Real,” and “An alternative Plan for California High Speed Rail-An Industry Pro speaks out:
    How Promised L.A.-S.F. travel in 2 Hours 40 minutes could be achieved affordably.”

    This project does not pass the sniff test. The project cost has already gone up $8 billion before construction started, while the SF-LA fare, which was sold to the voters in 2008 as $55, ballooned to over $100. Impartial critics find faults with projections used to justify the project. Pro-rail organizations find faults with specific HSR plans. The CAHSRA gets a reputation as an aloof organization that ignores community concerns while lacking a sound funding plan. Basic questions like “how in hell will we repay the HSR bonds?” come up. It’s time to go back to the drawing board with this project.

  7. And the backlash against the high speed rail project keeps coming. In 2008, the Palo Alto city council supported Proposition 1A which voters approved to authorize the state to sell $9.5 billion in HSR bonds. Now, after all of the facts regarding HSR started coming out [see my previous post in this thread] Palo Alto City Council voted to sue CAHSRA because the rail authority was non-responsive to the city’s comments on the recently adopted EIR.

    See:
    http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=18317

    and

    http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_16131256

    • > Palo Alto council declares no confidence in high-speed rail project
      By Jesse Dungan

      > Daily News Staff Writer

      > Posted: 09/21/2010 12:04:51 AM PDT

      > Palo Alto council members declared no confidence in the state’s high-speed rail project in a resolution passed unanimously Monday night. The council also called upon state and federal officials to pull funding for the $43 billion San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train.

      Holy Moly, Batman!!

      Even the chablis-drinking effete liberal snobs in Palo Alto are agreeing with my rants.

      Maybe I’m NOT just an isolated pre-institutionalized wingnut.

      But when the Palo Alto city council agrees with you, maybe it IS time to be institutionalized.

  8. John Horgan wrote an interesting column in the San Mateo County Times:
    http://www.mercurynews.com/san-mateo-county-news/ci_16127864

    The topic is Caltrain, which has been a “partner” with the High Speed Rail Authority since the two agencies signed an agreement a while ago.

    Horgan writes “But the High-Speed Rail Authority’s tactics—its lack of transparency, its bullying spokesmen, its rush to build and its ridiculed ridership projections—have succeeded in threatening Caltrain’s prospects.” He speculates that Caltrain officials could be getting fed up with CAHSRA’s heavy-handed behavior.
    “Considering how poorly the authority has treated local towns—it’s as if they are viewed as nothing more than feeble, selfish hamlets standing in the way of a juggernaut representing the greater good—a skeptical and aggressive Caltrain would be a breath of fresh air.”

    • If HSR comes up the Peninsula, Caltrain is really a “Dead Man Walking”. It will not survive except as another incremental ‘sucker play’ to bring along Peninsula cities, until CHSRA pops the issue of funding Caltrain with inadequate HSR funds—thus local funds—which they cannot afford. The choice for rail, then will only be the 6-10 trains up the Peninsula, some local to replace Caltrain since its riders will be siphoned off anyway.  Fact is that it will force a station, probably mid-way in Palo Alto. The power and greed of the $1 Trillon dollars funding by foreign banks, corporations, and some governments (per an Assymn I talked with) and crooked Democrats and a few Republican who are behind HSR, PPP Toll Roads and Congestion Pricing-Road SmartMetering, have sacrificed California, its financial health and future, layoffs of non-building trades union members, education, health and human services, public safety (count in our Democrat Imperial Mayor Reed, and debt-generator, public trough glutton, Assymn Jim Beall) on the alter of Sacto $$$ corruption, ego-based buildings (Stadium, “Diridon” Taj Mahjal HSR Station), and ineffective or stupid—but BayAreaNews headline-grabbing legislation.
      The latest report on San Jose and California’s poor roads is just another sign of the San Jose Council’s ineffective use of motorist-generated funds—and huge diversion to wasteful transit like HSR.  For crying out loud, why and what is the point of HSR???? It competes against existing private Tax+Fee generating transports, airports (fee-generation) and even multiple subsidized transit systems. The San Jose City Council needs to oppose HSR, its funding (toll roads, earmark (pork) legistlation, congestion pricing, gas tax, sales tax, general fund $800m/yr diversion from schools, healthcare, public safety, etc). Pierre and Pete needs to start opposing this and join the Peninsula Cities lawsuit. They are the only ones on the council who have any sense of fiscal responsiblity and balance.  STOP HSR. Save San Jose and California’s fiscal situation for humans!

      • > For crying out loud, why and what is the point of HSR????

        Simple.

        HSR is a big pot of taxpayer approved politician spending money.

        Why does a mountain climber climb a mountain?

        Because it’s there.

        Why does a politician spend a taxpayer dollar?

        Because it’s there.

  9. I really feel bad for some of you folk.  After reading all of these naysayer, obstructionist, non-forward thinking posts, I’m glad that these anti-HSR opinions are just that: anti-HSR OPINIONS…and they don’t mean squat!  Being that we live in a democracy, what really means something is that California voters said YES to HSR back in 2008, and large percentages of Californians, especially those on the Peninsula, still support the project by over 60%.  So let’s be thankful that the minuscule Palo
    Alto City Council (who are going against the majority of their residents) doesn’t make decisions for SJ, SF or the rest of California; let’s be thankful that the flawed, bias analysis’ quoted by Hugh Jardoon are just that: flawed and bias!  And finally, let’s be thanful that my generation and future generations, who will benefit greatly from HSR, don’t adhere to the wishes/opinions of the geriatric, tea-partying naysayers (the real group sitting in a corner drooling!).

    • > I really feel bad for some of you folk.  After reading all of these naysayer, obstructionist, non-forward thinking posts, I’m glad that these anti-HSR opinions are just that: anti-HSR OPINIONS…and they don’t mean squat!

      I feel so insignificant.

    • “let’s be thankful that the flawed, bias analysis’ quoted by Hugh Jardoon are just that: flawed and bias”

      Please be so kind as to tell us exactly how the UC Berkeley University of California Institute of Transportation Studies, the California State Auditor’s Office, the State legislative analyst’s office, the Palo Alto City Council, the California Rail Foundation are flawed and biased. Please cite specific sections of their reports and explain where the organizations are wrong in their analysis.

      If you cannot do that, please take your cheerleading for CAHSRA somewhere else.

      Just because you make an unsubstantiated claim that the reports that I cited above are “flawed and biased” does not make it so.
      Thank you.

    • In other words, if you hold another point of view, you must be a bad person, naysayer, obstructionist, non forward thinker, flawed reasoner, and icky head.

      To be a good person all you have to do is agree with Tony.  And give him more money.

      Note that nowhere in Tony’s post does he explain how we will get enough money to build HSR, provide an example of a California rail project that worked as promised, or attempt to answer any of the criticisms.

    • Blogging at 2:34 on a Tuesday? Sounds about right for a County employee. Thank you for helping to prove my point, hotshot.

      • Actually John, it was 12:34 PM, not 2:34 PM. Lots of people take their lunch break at around noon. When do you normally take a lunch?

  10. High Speed Rail is another union / construction industry political campaign contributors payback public works project that will make Boston’s “Big Dig” fiscal disaster look like a well run construction project

    HSR if built out as some want with billions in extra costs will be the ” golden spike ” boondoggle that drives California’s failing irresponsible special interest and public employees union controlled state government into bankrupt

    State should tell local cities like Menlo Park, Palo alto, etc if you want billions higher cost HSR alternative come up with money, if not you get what everyone else gets – what state can pay to build

  11. Setting aside the question of whether or not we can afford this project and the future legions of bureaucrats and spoiled, striking, unionized workers it’ll take to run it, I wonder, do we really want a system that will encourage and facilitate the overpopulation of our state? Aren’t there enough people in California already without inventing new ways of making it convenient for yet more of them to live here?

    The justification for HSR seems to be to keep up with our exploding population. Well there’s a much smarter way to deal with our exploding population. Stop illegal immigration.
    Stop illegal immigration. Then I’ll consider High Speed Rail.

    • Exactly how does HSR facilitate overpopulation?

      It’s not romantic enough to change the birth rate…

      And I don’t think most illegal immigrants will spend $100 per ticket to take HSR.  Greyhound is a lot cheaper.

  12. SJI readers frequently see Tony D expressing unsupported opinions and insults ( “all of these naysayer, obstructionist, non-forward thinking posts “) to those having different opinions comments supported by facts since he is either unwilling or incapable presenting documented facts to support his weak opinions

    People on SJI know you by your well researched facts, ideas, and opinions

    So we will, as usual, in reply get another Tony D rant, more insults and opinions without facts for his – HSR is great, worth money even if price doubles and passengers are few opinion – with more ranting insults towards everyone who disagrees

  13. Here’s the latest on CAHSRA shenanigans:

    Legislative Counsel issued a legal opinion that two California High Speed Rail Authority members have a Conflict of Interest:
    http://www.calhsr.com/resources/incompatible-offices-conflict-of-interest/

    The actual letter of opinion, written in legalese, is here:
    http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Incompatible-offices-LEG-COUNSEL-2010-04-23-Reduced-File-Size2.pdf

    This is just another reason to distrust the CAHSRA board.