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High-Speed Rail: Caltrans to the Rescue?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    State Senator Alan Lowenthal, Democrat representing the Long Beach area talks about the recent hearing regarding the response by university police at UC Davis and Berkeley and the controversial Ca. High Speed Rail initiative. (Published Friday, Dec 16, 2011)

    U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week became the latest California figure to suggest that the all-but-dead high-speed rail project be salvaged by turning it over to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

    It's a worthy idea.

    NewsConference: State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Part 2

    [LA] NewsConference: State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Part 2
    State Senator Alan Lowenthal, Democrat representing the Long Beach area talks about the recent hearing regarding the response by university police at UC Davis and Berkeley and the controversial Ca. High Speed Rail initiative. (Published Friday, Dec 16, 2011)

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority, which oversees the project, has had well-documented problems -- with conflicts of interest, expensive consulting contracts, unreliable cost estimates, a lack of board expertise in trains, and poorly drafted business plans.

    What's more, the authority's independence from the state has made it less than accountable to state government -- and pushed it to focus narrowly on the project without thinking clearly enough about the state's broader needs, including fiscal needs.

    Caltrans, in contrast, has expertise and a long history of managing big projections and negotiating big contracts.

    It's a full state department and should have no problem integrating a high-speed rail system with the state's overall transportation system.

    The non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office made similar points in a report last year. "We recommend that the Legislature remove decision-making authority over the high-speed rail project from the HSRA board to ensure that the state's overall interests, including state fiscal concerns, are fully taken into account as the project is developed."

    The counter-arguments to a Caltrans takeover are honest. The state bureaucracy will slow down, cost up, and perhaps strange this proposal. A separate high-speed rail authority is necessary because the voters were promised such a power -- and because a project this difficult can't be built within the existing system (or it would have been built already).

    Of course, the counter to the counter is just as obvious. The high-speed rail is a zombie. It would cost $100 billion, but the authority has not come up with that kind of money. Its public support is evaporating.

    To reverse that momentum, a big change is essential.

    More on California's quest for high-speed rail:

    Let China Pay for CA High-Speed Rail

    More Scrutiny for California's Embattled Bullet Train

    High-Speed Rail Screeches to a Halt

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