Commentary: Death knell for high-speed rail in California?

The Fresno BeeFebruary 22, 2011 

Grab a shovel and get ready to place the flowers. California's first attempt to build a high-speed train system is nearing death on arrival.

When the bold idea expires, the autopsy will show that high-speed rail was done in by poor ridership research, unrealistic cost projections, artificial deadlines and political agendas.

I had high hopes for high-speed rail. Still do.

But anything worth doing is worth doing right. And there's little evidence that getting it right is the goal of the state High Speed Rail Authority or federal transportation officials.

The spike through the heart of the effort was President Obama's decision to jump-start high-speed rail across the country with billions of stimulus dollars.

High-speed rail in California and elsewhere isn't close to shovel-ready. Officials in other states -- recognizing the strict deadlines that accompanied the dangled cash -- said no thanks, and California proponents eagerly scooped theirs up.

The problem is, the High Speed Rail Authority doesn't have its house in order. Nor does it have the time and ability to make things right. Not when it's racing the clock to meet stimulus-dollars deadlines.

I understand that projects need deadlines, and it's true that something this big must be built in phases. But years of reporting have shown me that elected officials use artificial deadlines to rush half-baked projects ahead and cover up problems.

We know that high-speed rail is popular in other parts of the world. We also know that America uses taxpayer money to build and maintain transportation systems. We know that California's airspace and highways are crowded and the state will need alternative transportation in the decades ahead.

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